Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

March 13 2014

3 Tips To Be A Better Negotiator

By David McMillin



Negotiation is part of every meeting professional’s life. From working for a salary increase to sorting out the details of a hotel contract to securing a big name keynote speaker, many days are dominated with the back-and-forth of brokering a deal.

At Convening Leaders 2014, Deepak Malhotra, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, gave planners and suppliers some helpful hints on how to make those days smoother. Malhotra discussed some of the nation’s most well-known negotiations in history, such as the post-World War I treaties and reparations and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Using these examples, Malhotra traced the similarities those discussions share with day-to-day negotiation conversations in the meetings industry. Here’s a look at three key takeaways from the session.

1) Negotiation is not just about persuading — it’s about learning.

While it’s easy to approach a negotiation with a me-first attitude, Malhotra says that worrying solely about what could happen to you or your organization if a deal doesn’t get done can put you at a serious disadvantage.

“Don’t just think about your alternatives,” Malhotra said. “Think about what might happen to the other side.”

Malhotra believes that effective negotiating relies on working to see the discussion from their perspective.

“You’re there to understand their point of view, too,” Malhotra said. “You need to walk into a negotiation with as much of a learning mindset as possible.”

SEE ALSO: The Mistake You’re Making Your Negotiations

2) It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.

“How you frame the request can have a huge impact on whether or not you’re successful,” Malhotra said. “Oftentimes, it’s not the proposal or the economics behind it, but it’s also about how it will look to the people who are watching the negotiation.”

Malhotra referenced the most recent labor dispute between the National Football League owners and players. After concerns about potential game cancellations, countless discussions and revisions to contractual language, they reached a seemingly complex agreement based on revenue percentages from a range of sources. However, all of them added up to the same total - no matter how they were sliced. So why the inclusion of so many different numbers? Why not boil it down to one very simple division of money? The players needed to look like they had managed to gain some concessions.

While your next contract negotiation for a hotel or convention center contract probably isn’t going to be covered by every US media outlet, the lesson is important to remember. There are a range of people involved in the outcome of a negotiation that may never be directly involved in the discussions. From the hotel owner to the CEO of a corporation or association, each side has a boss that must sign off, too. Framing the contract language in a new light might just gain their approval.

“Remember that everyone involved has to sell the deal to other stakeholders,” Malhotra declared.

SEE ALSO: The Evolving Art Of Hotel Negotiations

3) What isn’t negotiable today may be negotiable tomorrow.

Unfortunately, most negotiations are not finished within one day. As each party considers ways to reach a compromise, the final contract is constantly evolving.

“You must have a process for updating your assumptions and your strategy,” Malhotra said.

As the situation changes, be sure to remember to adapt your approach. Do you have more leverage? Or will more time actually put you in a worse position?

SEE ALSO: Have You Mastered The Art Of Persuasion?

Looking for more helpful hints on bringing your A-game to the negotiation table? Click here for OnDemand PCMA education on how to turn tense negotiations into friendly, productive conversations.

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