Published on October 13, 2021 at 9:28 p.m.
by Gabrielle Jolly.
Over 40% of U.S. employees doubt themselves in negotiations, with many Americans expressing fear and anxiety toward the topic. However, negotiations occur daily, and avoiding these processes can result in more harm than good. For a public relations practitioner, relationship building, effective communication and negotiating for various solutions are essential to a successful career. Even more, learning to embrace the uncomfortable aspects of negotiation will greatly enhance one’s abilities over time.
Preparation is key
Kate Evans, strategic communications consultant at Kate Evans Communications, emphasized the benefits of preparation. “If you can ‘map’ out and plan your negotiation before it happens, you’ll feel much more confident leading into it,” she said.
Prior to entering a negotiation, one should always determine one’s own personal BATNA — essentially the best alternative solution if the negotiation does not reach a successful outcome. The negotiator should also know their objectives, reservation price (the point at which the negotiator will cease to negotiate further) and overall negotiation style for the upcoming event. Depending on the opposing party and situation, negotiation styles may be avoiding, collaborating, competing or cooperating.
While it is crucial to understand one’s own tactics and principles of negotiation, it is equally important to understand the wants and needs of the opposing party. Obtaining information from an opponent is often more difficult, but extremely helpful when possible. Information about the party’s BATNA and reservation price allow for many advantages. For example, this pertinent information can provide helpful insight into the opponent’s value creation and desired outcomes.
Some negotiations will require a distributive outcome with a win-lose situation. Other negotiations allow for more integrative solutions, where the parties can “expand the pie” and create win-win situations. Many PR negotiations focus on integrative strategies where both parties can reach a desirable outcome.
A variety of tactics cater to integrative strategies that maximize the benefits for PR professionals. In the book “Essentials of Negotiation” by Roy Lewicki, David Saunders and Bruce Barry, the authors stated that focusing on the substance of the subject matter and relationship within an integrative negotiation generally results in more positive outcomes. Integrative negotiations also utilize information-gathering techniques to help the client rather than gain competitive advantages against them. This tactic is especially true for agency-client relationships that require collective understandings and mutual agreements.
In order to perform a successful integrative approach to a negotiation, PR practitioners can first define the problem at hand, discuss the various interests and needs, and generate alternative solutions. Then, the negotiators should evaluate these solutions and select the results that are acceptable to both parties.
Throughout this process, it’s important to emphasize similarities between parties and minimize the differences. By creating compatibility, trust is established and negotiators can access a free flow of information. While every negotiation and counterpart is different, experience is essential for expertise on this subject.
Practice makes perfect
Negotiations can be intimidating for many, but these skills can be formulated and enhanced over time. Like most skillsets, practice is essential for improvement. “A great way to gain real-world experience is to participate in situations that have very low stakes,” said Dr. Justin DeSimone, associate professor of management at The University of Alabama. “Even going to farmers markets or flea markets can give you more confidence in conflict situations.” DeSimone suggested starting with negotiations of low significance in order to build confidence and experience over time.
Role-playing is another helpful approach to refining negotiation skills. Evans recommended role-playing with co-workers and formulating various scripts one can use if they get “stuck” in a negotiation. Young professionals can also learn from senior-level management by sitting in on meetings and observing their behaviors and learned tactics. Evans described the learning curve of negotiation as a “fake it til you make it” approach in regards to feeling confident about the process. The PR industry requires the ability to quickly adapt to various conversations and display confidence in every situation.
Knowing your personal brand
The concept of self-awareness and knowing one’s personal communication and conflict styles greatly contribute to negotiation success. The act of emotional intelligence can improve one’s ability to control outbursts and think more strategically.
However, being aware of individual strengths, weaknesses and preferences is only one aspect of growth in negotiation. After addressing these aspects, the negotiator has to actively try to improve on these weaknesses and use them to their own advantage. “If you’re generally an agreeable person, try to make the other party like you by being personable,” said DeSimone. “People are actually kinder in a negotiation to people they like.” A variety of surveys are available for individuals to learn more about their personal communication and conflict styles. These surveys can assist in an individual’s ability to practice areas of weaknesses for future negotiations.
The PR industry
Relationship building is a fundamental component of the PR industry. In fact, PR practitioners must communicate effectively with their clients in order to reach acceptable agreements. For this reason, negotiation skills are imperative. Many solutions between a PR professional and client involve an integrative solution — where practitioners can formulate innovative strategies to reach maximum benefits and focus on long-term relationships. Many PR practitioner and client relationships rely on interdependence and mutual adjustment, which emphasizes the need for a strong negotiation mindset.
“Whether it’s negotiating a high-profile ambassador contract or something as simple as taking part in an agency’s internal meeting with your team — it all takes negotiation to maneuver them successfully,” said Evans. “Negotiation is all about role-playing — it’s about stepping into a role outside of yourself, and acting on behalf of your client or your agency to get the best results.”