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Education

Solving the myth of business negotiation

by Charles Mak

Stephen Nason, adjunct associate professor, Department of Management
HKUST Business School, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photo: Courtesy of HKUST Business School
Competent corporate executives exude a level of confidence that helps to cut deals with trade partners, and in some inevitable instances, their business rivals. "Effective negotiation is a key business management skill," says Stephen Nason, adjunct associate professor, Department of Management, HKUST Business School, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "Studies have shown that the bulk of managerial tasks involves negotiation in one form or another," he notes. "There is so much more in negotiation than striking a deal with a supplier."

For instance, Professor Nason points out, managers negotiate remunerations and job assignments with their superiors, and discuss work distribution with subordinates. In fact, interactive negotiation comes into play throughout a person's life. He explains, "People negotiate dinner choices with friends, childcare responsibilities with their spouses, and as trivial as it may sound, dessert options with their children."

The very act of negotiating, which is as much a science as an art, seems to require certain manipulating and influencing skills, but Professor Nason stresses that true success in negotiation essentially stems from a win-win mentality. As with other business endeavours, he says, an understanding of the key success factors and the techniques necessary for applying such factors, can lead to success for the parties involved. But then again, people do need to learn to deal with negotiators that attempt to manipulate others. "Playing mind games in a negotiation rarely leads to fruitful results," he cautions.

In his opinions, effective negotiators are able to adapt to specific situations and the persons they are dealing with. However, as he has observed, most people are oblivious of the importance of exercising flexibility and versatility in a negotiation context. "It is therefore important for people to get to grips with the characteristics of their own styles, and understand when and how these will contribute to effective negotiation," he advises.

Laurence Franklin, adjunct professor, Department of Accounting, Department of Finance and Department of Management, HKUST Business School, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photo: Courtesy of HKUST Business School

Track of the trade

Laurence Franklin, adjunct professor, Department of Accounting, Department of Finance and Department of Management, HKUST Business School, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, says that the vast majority of negotiations contain win-win options but most negotiators are not able to grasp the win-win potential in a given situation and they come into the boardroom with big ideas and walk away with little results or even win-lose results.

For this very reason, the HKUST Business School has on offer an open executive education programme in effective negotiations, with an ultimate aim to help participants to understand the nuts and bolts of negotiation and how to become better negotiators.

"There are some basic rules around the science of negotiating and a broad range of factors, including interpersonal techniques that will maximise one's chance of glory," says Professor Franklin.

He adds that people may gain the upper hand in a negotiation by not being completely honest with their opponents but the negative consequences of dishonesty will trump such advantages in the long term. "Win-win deals are rarely possible without trust," he emphasises. "The most effective negotiators always conduct themselves in a truthful manner."

This interactive programme immerses participants in a series of negotiation exercises where they learn to discuss issues, draw conclusions and analyse outcomes. "Through practice and in-depth analysis, students will be able to develop vital success factors for effective negotiation," Professor Franklin says. "There is also a great deal of fun in it."

Smooth negotiators

  • Negotiation a major business skill
  • Flexibility and versatility important
  • Gains of dishonesty short-term

Taken from Career Times 8 April 2011, A5


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