Mastering the rudiments of effective negotiation

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By Goke Ilesanmi

Who can remind me of the number of times that various labour unions have embarked on industrial actions in this country? Of course, the simple answer is that we have lost count. It is noteworthy that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) just suspended an eight-month strike. Series of industrial actions in this country readily call for effective negotiation skills for the purpose of organisational and national harmony. Embracing and mastering essentials of effective negotiation as individuals, educational institutions, corporate organisations, governments and nations is therefore very imperative.

What then is negotiation?

Negotiation simply refers to the way through which people settle differences. It is a process by which compromise or agreement is reached while avoiding argument and dispute. In any disagreement, individuals understandably aim to achieve the best possible outcome for their positions or maybe the organisation they represent. However, the principles of fairness, which tilt towards seeking mutual benefits and maintaining cordial relationships, are very critical to achieving a successful outcome.

Failure to apply these principles can be very tragic in some situations. In short, it worsened the World War 1. According to International Encyclopedia of the First World War in an article entitled, “Peace Initiatives”, written by Ross Kennedy, soon after the First World War had begun, efforts were made to end it through negotiation.

In Kennedy’s words, “Peace initiatives came from neutral governments, private citizens, and the belligerents themselves. Some aimed at a separate peace between two of the contending states; some at a general settlement to end the war altogether; and some, confusingly, involved parties seeking both a separate and a general peace at the same time.

“With the exception of Russia and Romania, each concluding a separate peace with the Central Powers in spring 1918, none of the peace initiatives launched prior to late 1918 succeeded in limiting or ending the war. They failed because the minimum terms acceptable to each side were incompatible. Each side perceived embracing the other side’s minimum terms as a ‘defeat’ threatening their nation’s existence as an independent power or their domestic political stability.”

It is worthy of note that different types of negotiation are used in different contexts, whether in industrial disputes, domestic relationships, international affairs, the legal system, government business, etc. In spite of this reality, general negotiation skills can be mastered and applied in a wide range of activities.  Negotiation skills can be of great benefits in the resolution of crises or disputes anywhere.

Wikipedia traces the etymology (origin) of the word “Negotiation” and educates that the word originated from what I would like to refer to as the semantic and orthographic blending of the Latin words “neg” (no) and “otsia” (leisure) referring to businessmen who, unlike the patricians, had no leisure time in their industriousness. Negotiation had maintained the meaning of business (“le négoce” in French) until the 17th century when it took on the diplomatic connotation as a dialogue between two or more people or parties intended to reach a beneficial outcome over one or more issues where a conflict exists with respect to at least one of these issues.

Therefore, negotiation is a process of fusing divergent positions into a joint agreement under a decision rule of unanimity and is aimed at achieving resolution of points of difference, to gain advantage for an individual or a group, or to structure outcomes to satisfy various interests. It is often conducted by putting forward a position and making concessions to achieve an agreement.

The level to which the negotiating parties trust each other to implement the negotiated solution is a major factor in determining the success or otherwise of negotiations. We can therefore infer that most times, lack of trust regarding sincerity of implementation of agreements during negotiations accounts for frequent face-offs between the government and various labour unions, including ASUU, in Nigeria.

People negotiate daily, often without considering it a negotiation. Negotiation occurs in educational institutions, organisations, in and between governments, in sales, in legal proceedings and even in marital and family contexts such as marriage, divorce, parenting, etc. Professional negotiators are often specialised, such as union negotiators, including ASUU’s, hostage negotiators, leverage buyout negotiators, peace negotiators, etc. Let me equally say that negotiators can also bear other synonymous titles like brokers, diplomats, legislators, etc.

Sequential Steps towards successful negotiation

For us to achieve the desired results in negotiation, we need to follow a structured approach. The process of negotiation includes preparation, discussion, clarification of goals, negotiation towards a win-win outcome, agreement and implementation of a course of action.

At this analytical juncture, it is necessary to examine these steps in turn.

(1) Preparation

A decision needs to be taken as to when and where a meeting will hold to discuss the problem and who will attend before any negotiation can take place.  Setting a limited time-scale can also be helpful to prevent the disagreement raging on like the harmattan fire.

This stage involves ensuring that all the pertinent facts of the situation are known in order to clarify your own position. Undertaking preparation before discussing the disagreement will help to avoid further conflict and unnecessary time-wasting during the meeting.

(2) Discussion

During the discussion stage, individuals or members of each side put forward the case as they see it, that is, their understanding of the situation. Critical skills during this stage include questioning, listening and clarifying. Sometimes, it is helpful to take notes during the discussion stage to record all points put forward in case there is need for further clarifications.  It is extremely important to listen, as when disagreement takes place it is easy to make the mistake of saying too much and listening too little.  Each side should have an equal opportunity to present their case.

To be continued

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GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant. Tel: 08056030424; 08055068773; 08187499425

Email: gokeiles2010@gmail.com

Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng

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