Negotiation 101: when, why and how
Words by Ellie Gerszt, Partnerships Executive at NABS
To most of us, standing on a 12th floor roof terrace overlooking the Thames with a glass of wine in hand sounds like a rather good Saturday night. The 100 or so women (with a few slightly conspicuous men in our midst) who joined the WACL Gathering last Monday evening would likely agree. But instead of being there to drink, chat and mingle (though that we certainly did), we were there to listen to a panel of senior WACLers discuss ‘Negotiation: asking the tough questions’.
The evening kicked off with a warm welcome from Tracy de Groose, the panel’s chair and CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network in the UK and Ireland. She opened the evening by asking the speakers, each with different backgrounds and unique perspectives, to give five minutes of their top tips on braving tricky negotiations and challenging topics. While their advice reflected their own experiences, a few key messages ran through the discussion.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
The panel all agreed that knowing your facts and figures inside out was the only place to start any negotiation. Roisin Donnelley, a non-executive director who spent 31 years at Proctor & Gamble, advised going into any negotiation having planned a number of ways that you could approach the conversation, as well as anticipating any criticisms, complaints or concerns that might come up.
Catherine Becker, CEO at VCCP Media, also noted that you should be prepared for if the conversation doesn’t go your way with clarity on what would make you walk away from the table and how you might prime them to re-approach the topic at a later stage.
Timing is everything
Choosing the right moment to bring up a tricky topic can be crucial to a successful outcome. Therese Baggas, Marketing Director at Judopay and a WACL Future Leader Alumna, advocated waiting until after a strong season or stellar project to negotiate, whereas another panellist suggested waiting until the beginning of a critical season when the business will particularly need your expertise. This topic came up again during the Q&A, when Roisin advised an audience member who had trouble pinning down a particularly avoidant boss, to try driving them to a meeting or approaching the topic when on a train. In short, trap them and they’ll have no choice but to talk the issue over with you!
Not war but win-win
Kate Waters, CSO at Now, noted that despite the title of the event, she doesn’t actually like the word negotiation preferring to reframe it as a conversation. She also argued that reciprocity is key, so think not only about what you want but what you might be prepared to give, such as delivering more, changing your working patterns or accepting more responsibility.
Roisin echoed her advice, advising approaching situations with a ‘win-win’ outcome in mind as opposed to viewing negotiation as a battle. Catherine also advised entering any negotiation with a clear understanding of your line manager’s business objectives. How will giving you a raise, a promotion or more responsibility affect their bonus? Their bottom line? Their KPIs? Focussing on how the outcome will not only benefit you but make them look good strengthens your position.
Tips on tactics
Tracy recommended becoming comfortable with deploying silence as a tactic in meetings, mentioning a high ranking executive who had a habit of asking a question, waiting for the response and then sitting in silence letting it sink in. Roisin also described a colleague who, when blindsided, would very slowly say “That’s an interesting idea. What made you think of that?” and follow up by asking about both the benefits and any potential criticisms of their point, giving them time to formulate a cohesive response. She pointed out that in meetings women habitually smile and nod far more than men, arguing that some men are apt to read this body language as implicit signs of agreement. Therese also noted that confidence is key, as entering negotiations with your value as an asset to the company clear in your mind will help put you in the right mindframe.
As the sun set behind the panel, Tracy moved on to Q&A. The audience were keen to engage and the panel tackled topics like stepping away from the negotiating table without compromising your position and recounting tales of the negotiations they were most proud up with remarkable composure.
Tracy ended the evening by reflecting that she hoped the evening had provided a diverse range of tips for everyone in attendance. As I left, it occurred to me that the most important factor in negotiation is likely your own personality and working style. In the end, while bearing all tips and tactics in mind perhaps the most important thing is to approach the negotiation in a way that will feel authentic to you.