Recently, I’ve been attempting to read “The Art of the Deal”, published in the 1980s by a New York businessman called Donald Trump (wonder whatever happened to him?). While it doesn’t contain any dramatic new insights into deal-making, it shows that the author does understand that to be successful in business, it is necessary to negotiate.
When the book was published, most HR professionals would have seen this as a core skill. Negotiating with staff, whether via unions or not, was a day to day occurrence and something that was an integral part of the job. HR people understood that the interests of employers and staff were not always aligned and that there needed to be an element of give and take on both sides. Hardline confrontational tactics might be used on occasion, but normally only if a red-line had been crossed (or if there were some hidden agenda at play).
These days, negotiation skills are very much a lost art. “Employee Relations” means, to many HR people, the ‘nuisance’ of dealing with an individual grievance or a disciplinary matter. If workers aren’t completely sold on the company’s mission, it’s due to a failure of our employee engagement initiatives and we need to redouble our efforts to get our happiness scores up.
The problem of course is that when a serious dispute occurs, HR professionals have no idea how to deal with it. Managers at Southern Rail decided that the best way to resolve their dispute was to troll their staff on social media in an attempt to bulldoze their position through. After a prolonged period of deadlock, the junior doctors dispute was only resolved when the arbitration service ACAS helped both parties to negotiate a deal (unfortunately, attitudes had become so entrenched by that point that the deal was later rejected, despite being recommended by the union).
So here are my “Negotiation 101” tips for any HR practitioner – before you even start a negotiation.
· Understand that the other party has different objectives to you. What may seem a ‘logical’ argument to you may cut no ice with them
· Be clear about what items in the negotiation are tradeable and what are not (your ideal, realistic and fall-back positions). You can’t have your cake and eat it!
· Anticipate what the other party may want, and the arguments they may use – and then develop counter-proposals
· Aim for a win-win – something which allows the other party show they have gained something for concessions they may have to make.
And when you get there, listen. Half the skill of a negotiation is understanding when the other party might be willing to discuss a tradeable item.
It may be a little more time-consuming than the current approach of what “management says goes” but it will be far more effective. Just ask Donald…