Become a Master Negotiator

A Project Management Article by Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, CEO, Cheetah Learning LLC (PMI® REP)

Many of us enter into a negotiation with a sense of fear or intimidation. No one wants to get burned. Stereotypically, our culture has given us images of robotic business types in power suits winning the day with stealth negotiation techniques. The meek losers fade into the shadows with little but regret.

Those stereotypes tend to depict negotiation as a battlefield, complete with bloodshed and victors. Instead, successful negotiation is more like a party—everyone wants to collaborate and have a good time. It is an exchange that will ideally result in both sides coming away from the table feeling honored and satisfied.

Envision yourself as a diplomat or an ambassador with your own agenda (but no weapons of destruction). The first step to getting your negotiation mojo in motion is to understand the other side. Surprised? This is truly where all successful negotiation begins.

Know Yourself

The first part of a negotiation is knowing and understanding who you are. Before you can read others, you have to be able to honestly look in the mirror and know what you are bringing to the negotiating table. Don’t worry, we’re not going to send you to therapy. We’re just going to acquaint you with the basics of personality types.

The theory behind personality types is based on the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, and more recently, Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs, who developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. Here is a simplified personality assessment based on the four key personality dimensions.

  • E or I – Are you're an Extrovert (E) or an Introvert (I)? How are you energized? Do you get excited or animated around others (E) or do you prefer to be on your own? (I)
  • N or S – Are you Intuitive (N) or Sensory (S)? What do you focus on in your environment? Do you look at what could be (N)? Or do see “what is” (S)? People who fit the N classification are “Idea” people and the people who fit the “S” classification are driven by “real” facts and data.
  • T or F – Are you a Thinker (T) or a Feeler (F)? How do you make decisions? Do you make them impersonally with comments such as “I think” (T)? Or do you make decisions based on your own values, prefacing comments with “I feel…” (F)?
  • J or P – Are you Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)? How do you choose to live? Do you keep your desk neat and tidy (J)? Or do you prefer to keep it more spontaneously organized and flexible (P)? People who fit the J classification prefer an orderly life and are happiest when matters are settled. People who fit the P classification prefer to be spontaneous and are happiest when their lives are more flexible.

Finding Your Blind Spots

Once you’ve determined your personality type, then you need to be aware not only of your strengths, but especially your blind spots. For example, if you are an INTJ you are strategic, thoughtful and deliberate, competent, logical and always prepared.

Let’s take a look at the blind spots of an INTJ: you many not spend the necessary time to establish rapport or develop relationships. You may cause confusion because you don’t always communicate clearly. You may get impatient with people who don’t understand your point of view. You may be inflexible and difficult to persuade. This is just one example; for a more complete discussion refer to our book, Cheetah Negotiations.

Who’s on first?

Who is that on the other side of the table? Having some basic ideas about the other person’s key personality traits can give you a lot of insight. (Not to mention brownie points for you— people love to be understood!) It’s also important that you know and understand your own strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. The Meyers-Briggs personality type assessment is a useful tool to determine your personality type and to give you guidance in looking at others in a different light. It certainly can’t hurt to know that they process the world around them differently than you do.

To determine what another person’s personality type is, you can do some detective work.  People with specific personality types are naturally attracted to positions and careers that fit their type. For example, entrepreneurs are often ENTPs. They see possibilities where others don’t. They are open and enthusiastic about ideas.

Here are some occupations with the associated Personality Type:

  • ENFJ: recruiter, fund-raiser, facilitator, psychologist, clergy, politician
  • INFJ: career counselor, psychologist, priest/clergy/monk/nun, designer, counselor
  • ENFP: reporter, marketer, social worker, pastoral counselor, legal mediator, psychologist
  • INFP: architect, editor, legal mediator, counselor, church worker, team building or conflict resolution consultant
  • ENTJ: credit investigator, stockbroker, labor relations, attorney, judge, psychologist, psychiatrist, personnel manager, office manager
  • INTJ: financial planner, computer systems analyst, attorney, designer
  • ENTP: politician, financial planner, investment banker, entrepreneur, investor, venture capitalist
  • INTP: pharmacist, lawyer, psychoanalyst, investigator, legal mediator

While career choices are insightful, the most important way to determine personality types is to tune into what people say and what they do. Here are a few tips to help you read people’s personality types:

  • Notice their behavior around others. Do they get excited and draw energy from others (E) or do they prefer to be on their own (I)?
  • Where do they place their focus? Do they look at what could be (N) or at what is (S)
  • How do they make decisions? Do they preface their opinions with “I think” (T) or “I feel”? (F)
  • Do the desk test. Is their desk neat, tidy and structured (J)? Or is it more spontaneously organized and flexible?

Communication Approaches

After you identify a personality type, then you need to know how to communicate with that person. Here are a few tips:

  • INTJ: Be brief and to the point. Acknowledge their work and thank them – especially in front of others.
  • ISTJ: Don’t bother them with the details. Make sure you understand their current challenges and help them find solutions to solve them.
  • ENTP: Let them share ideas and participate in the process. Be clear about the deliverable and what you need.
  • ESTJ: Engage them in discussion. Let them talk about personal matters. Ask them how they can help you with your problem.

Prepare before you speak

Now that you know the players, you need to get ready for game-time. We often jump into negotiations because we’re excited, and sometimes we simply want to get it over with. You have to avoid the tendency to move too quickly, because it puts you at risk of being unprepared. Here are some key steps to take before you negotiate:

  1. Establish the context. Know exactly what you want to come away with and try to understand as much about the other party’s objectives before you begin negotiating.
  2. Identify needs and wants. A need is necessary for success, whereas a want may be an improvement or a “nice to have.”
  3. Understand what will happen if you don’t reach an agreement. What are the implications if you can’t agree? Think about your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).
  4. Establish the importance of the outcome with a keen understanding of the relationship with the other party. Not all negotiations are created equal. Sometimes, maintaining the integrity of the relationship is more important than getting exactly what you want. You don’t want to ruin a key relationship by nitpicking over details that have little impact.
  5. Determine the Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA). This is the area where you may find agreement. If you don’t know this going in, you’ll want to uncover this information early in the negotiation session.
  6. Be clear on when you won’t compromise and when you will Get Up And Leave (GUAL). What exactly are your boundaries in this negotiation? They could be ethical or monetary. Before you walk in, know your triggers for GUAL.

Ready to Go!

You’ve done your prep work, now it’s time to begin the negotiation. Here’s a quick checklist for the day of the negotiation.

People - Are the right people present to make a decision?

Introduction - Don’t race to the end. Allow each side the opportunity to introduce their needs, wants, and issues.

Bargaining - Explore solutions and find options for mutual gain.

Agreement - Iron out terms and formalize commitment.

Closure - Determine the next steps to set your negotiation in motion.

Negotiations aren’t wars with wizards. You have the power, and just like the mastery of any skill, you can improve it through practice and preparation. A few hours preparing can be worth years in the long run. So, do your homework and watch your confidence grow with each successful negotiation.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, CEO, Cheetah Learning LLC (PMI® REP)

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast.  She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 30,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah Learning’s innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.  

Recently honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI® Global Congress.  A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

Michelle’s articles have appeared in over 100 publications and web sites around the world. Her monthly column, the Know How Network is carried by over 400 publications, and her monthly newsletter goes out to more than 50,000 people.  

She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Manager’s (OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Dayton.

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