This one article was originally published on .cult by Kalen McKlevey. .sect is a Berlin-based developer community platform. We write about all things career, create original documentaries and share countless other untold stories from developers around the world.
When we think of negotiation, we imagine intense discussions going back and forth between two parties discussing a deal over huge sums of money. One side has a price in mind and won’t budge, the other has a budget in mind and won’t budge. Either party will either adapt or both will walk away. Add to that the power struggle of appearing as the “hardest person”, and you’re in for a tough time making the deal.
While these negotiations take place, they are not what most of us experience in our daily lives. Do not get me wrong; negotiation happens every day. I’m just saying it’s not all intense battles. They also don’t need a huge power struggle.
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For example, have you ever made a deal with your kids so they can go to bed on time, or have you had to convince an airline customer service representative to book you on another flight after a delay?
You were negotiating!
To go further, believe it or not, negotiation is also an important part of being a software engineer.
This is when negotiation skills come into the picture:
- convince others of the best technical solution or architecture for a new position
- convince a colleague of a better approach during code reviews
- decide on team standards for maintainable code with your team
- working through project scope with cross-functional partners within certain deadlines
- talk about you new total compensation when changing company, position or during promotions
We can see through these scenarios that developers are negotiating one way or another almost every day. However, the interesting thing is that most of us have never learned the proper techniques or best ways to work together when negotiating to get better results.
It wasn’t until I realized the importance of this skill that I decided it was time to learn. So I went looking for the best books on the subject and chose the two summarized below.
The summaries show a few key ideas from each book, but I recommend checking them out for yourself to learn more!
Book 1: To Yes . to go: Negotiating an agreement without giving in
This classic handbook on negotiations was and still is the most important learning guide for negotiators around the world.
Focus on getting a win-win solution:
An important idea is to find a win-win solution so that both parties leave the final deal with a good feeling.
Often, during a negotiation, all parties involved have specific interests that are most important to them – discovering them is key. Once the interests are known, each side can compromise in areas they care about least, allowing both sides to win in the areas they care about most.
Four principles of negotiation:
1. Separate people from the problem
It’s the “us versus the problem” mentality that helps make deals without personal attacks, harming relationships, or blaming others. By changing the perspective from winning the other party to winning the problem itself, the discussion is framed appropriately.
That framework makes it easier for both parties to listen to and understand each other’s points of view, enabling better communication and deal closing.
2. Focus on interests instead of positions
When each side negotiates from a certain position, neither can yield easily. We don’t want to give up ground or be ‘wrong’. Instead of discussing it that way, determine the importance of each party and what they are willing to let go.
By doing this, you can find ways to meet the interests of each party without losing “ground”.
3. Generate several options before entering into an agreement
Brainstorm ideas apart from negotiating final decisions. Exploring ideas in a safe space allows the creative juices to flow freely. It also gives people the opportunity for partial solution ideas, which can be combined later when finalizing the negotiation.
Once ideas are generated, evaluate them together with a focus on those that can be completed at a low cost to you, but are of great value to the other parties (and vice versa).
4 – Insist that the argument is based on objective criteria
By creating an objective list of criteria, ideas and agreements can be based on data instead of opinions, emotions and points of view.
In creating win-win solutions, objectivity helps us determine how to easily find options to win!
Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)
BATNA is the less advantageous outcome you would accept in a negotiation.
With this core idea, you can easily walk away from negotiations that would adversely affect your interests.
Overall, “Getting to Yes” shows that finding alternative solutions where both sides win makes negotiation easier.
Chris Voss believes that negotiation is the process of trying to convince others of your approach to a subject. It is a type of communication that requires a specific outcome and is based on the assumption that people want to be accepted and understood.
He doesn’t think that finding alternatives is always the best outcome of negotiations because you’re giving up ground in areas you really care about. Moreover, he believes that negotiation should not be done with reason and logic, as humans are not rational beings.
Let’s get into some of the book’s key points.
By understanding the feelings and mindset of other parties within a negotiation and really hearing what is behind their feelings through active listening, you can create more influence in conversations.
By keeping others in a positive mindset and a safe space, you can find ideas and ways that lead them to the idea you want. Chris Voss emphasizes with a calm, positive, casual tone. Even in tense discussions, this tone helps to strengthen and maintain a safe negotiating environment.
By repeating what the other is saying in a curious tone, you show that you are actively listening and you keep the other side talking.
He recommends repeating the last three words, or the critical last word, of what someone said so that you build rapport by appearing in the conversation as like-minded people. How does this build rapport? Mirroring someone will likely keep them talking, and being an active listener builds rapport.
Use tactical empathy, mirroring, and active listening to label how others are feeling. Statements like “it looks like…” or “it sounds like…” can validate your understanding and their feelings. This requires noticing expressions and tones in order to read how the other person is really feeling.
By labeling you show understanding and also reinforce the feelings that come up in the conversation.
If they respond with “that’s right,” that means you’re hearing them.
Use questions as a way to give the other party “control.” By asking them calibrated questions, you get their help in solving the problem together.
Questions like the following can help you come up with ideas:
- What do you think is important about this?
- How can I help make this better for us?
- How do you want me to proceed?
- What put us in this situation?
- How can we solve this problem?
- What are we trying to achieve here?
- How do I do that?
Chris Voss’ idea of negotiation is to use discovery through listening and build rapport, validate concerns and create a safety net to allow conversations to flourish.
These conversations lead to you understanding and validating the other party’s concerns, while building the case for your outcome. Once the other party feels validated and understood, you can direct them to the reasons why your solution is leading to the best result.
It should go without saying, but you can of course change the negotiation outcome based on what you learn, but the key is that you can do this by understanding the other person’s situation and interest.
I have found these two books extremely helpful in my career, and I hope by teaching some of the key ideas that I have sparked your interest in learning even more!