Negotiating, or being a good negotiator for that matter, is a skill many may claim to possess but that few truly possess. Many of us have encountered a family member, colleague or acquaintance who boasts about being a skilled negotiator and how they managed to buy an object or item well below cost or at a proverbial steal. Being a skilled negotiator may require various skill sets depending on the context of the negotiations. The purpose of this article, however, is to briefly explore some practical tips and tricks to assist employers, in the context of employment relations, in being more effective negotiators.

Immediately, when one thinks of what it means to be a good negotiator in the context of employment, it is most likely that one’s mind would think of negotiations in the employment context insofar as they relate to wage negotiations or conditions of employment. While this is generally the most common occurrence, if a deep look is had into the nuances of the average employment relationship, it soon becomes apparent how much negotiating, irrespective of the scale or context thereof, takes place in the average workplace.

From an employer’s perspective, negotiating does not just occur once a year when employees demand salary increases. Negotiating can take many different forms and is not limited to a strict interpretation and application of the word. For instance, and as a hypothetical example, an employee submits a request wherein they want to start working from home two days a week. Some employers may immediately be entirely against the idea, while others may see this as a unique opportunity whereby the employee can gain as well as the organisation. Good negotiators are able to see such scenarios as having mutually beneficial outcomes for both parties.

Since this article seeks to be brief and to identify some key tips for employers in the full context of the employment relationship, some of the more practical learned tips will be explored below:

  1. Listening to understand, not listening to respond:

Experience shows that when parties negotiate, fully understanding the other parties’ view or point from the start is, more often than not, the key to finding a mutually beneficial outcome. Negotiations, irrespective of the context, tend to break down when parties do not fully comprehend or understand the others’ views or stances. Simple misunderstandings are easily navigated when parties fully explain and listen properly to each other when discussing the item from the outset.

  1. Leaving your preconceived ideas at the door:

While negotiations are naturally driven by positions and stances, preconceived ideas or thoughts about an individual or organisation with whom you are negotiating can sometimes taint the negotiation itself in that sight is lost of the actual topic for discussion or negotiation. It is important to approach any situation where negotiation takes place from an objective and factual perspective first and then, and only if needed, to apply subjective criteria to the situation, should it be so required.

  1. It’s all about mutual respect:

Negotiating should always be done within specific parameters in that, irrespective of the context of the negotiation, mutual respect should always be observed between the parties. Personal remarks, disrespectful comments, or any undesirable language should be avoided at all costs as this detracts from the task at hand and can lead to a situation escalating beyond just the topic for negotiation. Far too often, negotiations break down because a party deviates from the principle of mutual respect.

  1. Willingness to negotiate:

This may seem like an overly simple tip, but the very nature of negotiating requires flexibility as well as a willingness to compromise from both parties. If, for instance, an employer is unwilling to move from their position or even entertain a proposition or idea, it is best to communicate this openly and frankly instead of potentially causing frustration for all concerned.

In conclusion, the above tips are by no means exhaustive. A simple Google search will reveal a plethora of advice and strategies on how to become a great negotiator. However, keeping things simple always seems to be the most effective way of attaining the goal. Consequently, from an employer’s perspective, the above tips should go a long way in assisting employers on their journey to becoming more effective negotiators.

By Daniel Van Der Merwe

National Collective Bargaining Coordinator at Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO SA)