Taking Your Negotiations Skills to the Next Level

Taking Your Negotiations Skills to the Next Level

The art and science of negotiating effectively often means the difference between success and failure in outcomes that are important to you or your organization.

Whether negotiating for a salary increase, a home purchase, a company purchase or a settlement agreement of any kind, there is an effective negotiating process. If followed, it will nearly always lead to dramatically better outcomes than just “flying by the seat of your pants.”

Unfortunately, most people fail to prepare properly, or at all for a pending negotiation. They are often outsmarted by their opponent, and walk away disappointed or empty handed.

The science of negotiations involves preparation and active negotiating skills that include:

  • Understanding your interests and positions, and the differences between them.
  • Your alternative to a negotiated agreement, which can be a powerful bargaining chip.
  • Your walk-away factor and when to invoke it, and similar parameters for your opponent.  

The art of negotiations includes the intangible elements that are situational:

  • When to be the first to offer a price—and when to wait.
  • How to evaluate body language.
  • How to counter unethical opponents.
  • How to order the negotiating agenda.

With this in mind, I’ve created a one-day open-enrollment Executive Education program “Effective Negotiations: Strategies and Tactics.” The program compresses one of the most popular 10-week UC Davis MBA courses into an intensive, hands-on negotiating foundation.  

Without the art- and science-based approaches you will learn in this program, negotiations are at best, a gamble, and at worst, a disaster.

Negotiating when the chips are down

And to put you ahead of 99 percent of other negotiators you may face in your job and life, we will also focus on negotiating when the chips are down.  

For example, when I was CEO of SkyStream, a high-flying Silicon Valley telecommunications startup, the Internet/telecom bubble burst in 2000 and took a lot of companies and good people with it. Not our company, or our people! 

We succeeded using what I call “down-side negotiating,” when you don’t have many alternatives to a negotiated settlement, and special skills and techniques are required. This includes negotiating with difficult people, and people who hold all the cards.

During this post-bubble period Skystream flourished. We negotiated a great financing during the throes of the downturn. At the same time, we nearly burned through all our money. Through a series of innovative negotiations, we avoided bankruptcy, raised $29 million, lowered our building lease commitment by 40 percent, stretched our supplier payment terms, and convinced our customers to pay us early to make our payroll.

Effective negotiations allowed the company to survive and thrive, reaching solid profitability by 2005. A year later we sold SkyStream to a public company and in 2007 we sold that company to Ericsson for $1.4 billion. A thousand other startups vanished during this period.

Powerful, life-changing skill

I always ask my students to tell me why they are interested in learning negotiations. Nearly all of them reply it is because they just don’t know how to do it: They don’t prepare; they don’t have the tools; they don’t know what to expect; and they don’t even know how to evaluate the efficacy of the outcome.

Students leave my class commenting about how powerful they feel with the practical skills they have learned. They share how they have put their new expertise into play and seen better outcomes, and how they will use these skills for the rest of their lives.  

Having taught negotiations at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management for five years, I hear from students nearly every week. Here are a few recent messages from my past students:

“Hi Jim, I wanted to thank you. I use skills taught in your classes every day. I now work in supplier management so I am negotiating with vendors all of the time on behalf of my company. Also my team is entirely remote, meaning that we meet over video conference each week. Both your Teams and Technology class and Negotiation class have been invaluable to me. I am glad that the Graduate School of Management has such a great instructor.”

“Hi, I just wanted to thank you for the Negotiation class! My company gave me a 12.75 percent increase for my performance last year, a promotion on completing my MBA, which I didn’t think was good enough. I was able to negotiate a 41 percent increase in my base salary and an addition 5 percent added to my annual bonus. I wouldn’t have been able to take the emotions out of it and negotiate such a good deal without the Negotiation class.”