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Principles of negotiation and influencing

Principles of negotiation and influencing


Understanding Individuals: Principles of Negotiation and Influencing


This section covers: 

  • Principles of Negotiation and Influencing

Influencing and negotiating are things we all try to do all the time. For instance, we want to influence our children to behave according to codes and values we feel are appropriate or we want our partners to choose the holiday we want.

Negotiating and influencing are particularly important skills in public health, as we often lead without authority and are therefore reliant on the success of our behaviour and skills in dealing with colleagues within the organisations in which we work and also with external partners. There will be many occasions where we want to influence colleagues or partners to adopt a specific course of action, persuade our peers or stakeholders to take part in joint projects or work with us towards a particular goal or negotiate to secure funds for projects.

Like many others, in public health we advocate the collaborative as opposed to the out-and-out adversarial approach, but this requires a measure of pre-assessment, of
effective planning.

Fisher and Ury (1983) identified four fundamental principles of negotiation:

Four basic principles

  • Be hard on the problem and soft on the person
  • Focus on needs, not positions
  • Be inventive about win-win options
  • Make clear agreements

This has been further developed into a set of twelve skills by the Conflict Resolution Network (

Where possible prepare in advance. Consider what your needs are and the needs of the other person. Consider outcomes that would address more of what you both want. Commit yourself to a win/win approach, even if tactics used by the other person seem unfair. Be clear that your task will be to steer the negotiation in a positive direction. To do so you may need to do some of the following:

Ask a question to reframe. (e.g. "If we succeed in resolving this problem, what differences would you notice?"). Request checking of understanding. ("Please tell me what you heard me/them say.") Request something she/he said to be re-stated more positively, or as an "I" statement. Re-interpret an attack on the person as an attack on the issue.

Respond not React

  • Manage your emotions.
  • Let some accusations, attacks, threats or ultimatums pass.
  • Make it possible for the other party to back down without feeling humiliated (e.g. by identifying changed circumstances which could justify a changed position on the issue.)

Re-focus on the issue

Maintain the relationship and try to resolve the issue. (e.g. "What's fair for both of us?" Summarise how far you've got. Review common ground and agreement so far. Focus on being partners solving the problem, not opponents. Divide the issue into parts. Address a less difficult aspect when stuck. Invite trading ("If you will, then I will") Explore best and worst alternatives to negotiating an acceptable agreement between you.

Identify Unfair Tactics

Name the behaviour as a tactic. Address the motive for using the tactic. Chance the physical circumstances. Have a break. Change locations, seating arrangements etc. Go into smaller groups. Meet privately. Call for meeting to end now and resume later, perhaps "to give an opportunity for reflection".

Attributes and Competences for Successful Influencing/Negotiating

There are number of attributes and competences that help us to influence positively and negotiate successfully. Here we have sought to group them in a number of key areas and phases. As with many things in life, up-front planning can prove beneficial.


1.  Planning and 'pre-conditions'

Process Awareness
This helps us distinguish between the 'what' (the subject or matter being negotiated) and the 'how' (the way the negotiation is being conducted). A negotiator with high 'process awareness' initially stands back from the issues of the negotiation and then identifies and manages the process to achieve desired outcomes.

There is often quite a lot that can be done to help 'set the scene' for successful conditions under which to negotiate, possibly bringing other key stakeholders or champions on-side prior to the negotiation. People who have developed this approach work hard at building relationships, they continually check assumptions and typically give themselves enough time to prepare, thinking through the key components to achieve a 'win win' situation.

Successful influencers/negotiators focus on the objectives of the other parties to the negotiation, not just their own. They consider the best possible outcomes, the best alternative options available and then determine the range and boundaries under which they will conduct the negotiation.

Common Ground
It can be beneficial to identify in advance the potential common ground between the parties involved, to consider shared personal interests and in the subject matter of the negotiation. Using this approach good negotiators seek areas of agreement and concurrence throughout the negotiations.

Similarly it can be helpful to consider in advance the tactics likely to be deployed by the other party/parties and then applying a range of counter-tactics that can lead towards successful outcomes of the negotiation

This attribute is another key part of planning and focuses on estimating the needs of other parties and understanding them. Motivation pays particular attention to areas such as possible 'hidden agendas' and underlying personal motivators of the other people involved as well as their personalities and their likely short and longer term aims.

Similarly it can be beneficial to consider the place and conditions where influencing and negotiation take place. Effective influencers and negotiators often think very carefully about the location and setting and pay attention to creating an overall beneficial atmosphere right down to the layout of furniture and seating arrangements

2.  Engagement

Behaviours can be tempered to suit to the style and personality and likely aims and objectives of the other parties and the overall atmosphere in which the negotiation takes place. Not everyone can easily 'flex' their personal style and behaviours of course but those who can often influence successfully by the use of empathy.

Good negotiators take care to manage the time dimensions of the negotiation. Typically they can seek to Influence the start and end times and use time constraints, and time-related pressures to end the negotiation on a positive note.

Some negotiators even seek to manage the emotional 'mood' of the negotiations, thereby influencing the levels of personal rapport, taking into account any emotional undercurrents that might indicate high levels of trust or mistrust between the parties.

Effective influencers consider both the actual and the perceived power balance between the parties and then flex their approach in the negotiations accordingly. For example they may allow a person or organisation that perceives themselves to be strong and powerful to play the 'power' role whilst deploying tactics, actions and behaviours that quietly and progressively seek to 'win' the key points of the negotiation from their own point of view, leading them to successful outcomes.

Timing and Pace
By influencing the development of a negotiation through a number of phases, strong negotiators seek to build strong negotiating positions that can lead to beneficial solutions. They make tactical efforts to build 'scaffolding' as they develop their case or argument so that they cab 'build' towards an overall successful outcome.

Creates mechanisms for guaranteeing commitments. Locks in substantive issues through managing the process of documentation, and commits relationships by ensuring clarity, understanding and agreement to actions.

Verbal Communication
Experienced negotiators select their words with care so as to clearly signal particular attitudes or positions e.g. cooperative or combative, using appropriate phrases and expressions and even picking up on the other parties' words as and when appropriate. They will only use technical terms or jargon where their planning or senses tell them that they are adding rather than subtracting value from the overall negotiations. Typically they will seek to summarise positions for the other party/ies, ensuring that they 'build' their arguments, their case, as they progress.

Making Concessions
Strong negotiators often use the 'if - then' approach, they suggest that concessions might be made by each party with the desire to create an acceptable 'win-win' situation. 'Concede that which is of least value to you but which might have high value to the other party' is a tactic that many successful negotiators develop.

Good influencers and negotiators prepare and construct questions that will help them understand as soon as possible the needs and objectives of the other parties. They deploy a mix of 'open' and 'closed' questions to seek information, gain commitment, seek agreement wherever possible.

Many successful influencers/negotiators listen aggressively. They often will say 'you were born with one mouth and two ears and you should use them in those proportions'. They ask good questions and then listen very carefully to the answers, getting the other party to disclose their own position and bargaining needs.
Effective listening can help ensure understanding before responding or before moving on to the next point.

Non-verbal Communication
Good negotiators pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal communication - their own and also those of others. In this way they observe and interpret the other parties' levels of comfort/discomfort whilst endeavouring to send planned and deliberate signals through their own behaviour and voice control that will reinforce meaning and help build their own arguments/case.

3.  Post-negotiation

Good negotiators review the outcomes of each and every negotiation, consider what worked, what didn't, what helped achieve desired outcomes, what didn't - and why!

As a result of this new negotiations may need to be considered and the process may need to start again.

It is also necessary to consciously reflect on other parties' behaviours as well as their own performance, build 'mental records' for the future. Typically they will also maintain contact after the formal negotiation process has ended in order to further develop relationships with other parties.



                                                                       © K Enock 2006, N Leigh-Hunt 2016