3 habits of a good negotiator

Jan 19, 2018

Negotiation is an intricate part of our lives. Defined as discussion aimed at reaching an agreement, our problem-solving mind is tested the moment we wake up. From what we’re going to wear, to the heart-pumping exercises we want to engage in that day, negotiating is a deeply ingrained as a subconscious process.

Whenever opinions, values or objectives differ from those we interact with, negotiation comes into play. In sport, negotiation is a common occurrence between administrators, athletes, parents, coaches and officials. Unfortunately, relationship preservation can be pushed to the sidelines when emotionally-charged parties face each other in conflict.

Unlike a sports match, negotiation shouldn’t mimic a zero-sum game where the outcome leaves a prominent winner and loser. Known as position negotiation, this approach heavily considers the positions of the involved parties and only resolves the surface issue at hand. Resulting solutions that reflect positions of authority can create resentful and ineffective relationships. Not ideal, to say the least.

A more effective means of negotiation is principled negotiation, which is based on the varying interests of those involved. Principled negotiation allows opportunity for frank and open discussion to reveal critical and underlying issues. By adopting creative and open-minded solutions, this type of negotiation successfully encourages collaboration and preserves well-intended relationships.

Principled negotiation doesn’t come easy. More often than not, debilitating fear can creep into the very thought of being honest and vulnerable during open communication. Nonetheless, the long term impact of skillful negotiation benefitting all parties is fundamental for a high-performing sport organization. The next time conflict arises, keep these three habits of a good principled negotiator offered by the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) in mind: 

1) Acquire a global perspective

It’s essential to have a holistic understanding of the situation by asking yourself preliminary questions before negotiation begins. The more knowledge you have about the situation, the fewer roadblocks you’ll encounter during the process.

  • What is the issue? 
  • Is it an urgent situation? How soon does it need to be resolved?
  • Who has the authority to settle? Will they be present?
  • What could be your Plan B?

2) Establish grounds for collaboration 

See that pride of yours? Time to knock it out of the ball park. As confident as you may be, it’s important to keep an open mind; you aren’t always necessarily right. Albeit more time-consuming, collaboration allows for productive problem-solving with considerable effort from everyone involved. Be sure to let go of some control through decision-making, put forward multiple options, and preserve the credibility and honour of your counterparts.

3) Solid communication skills

The mastery of effective communication involves taking a step back and reflecting before offering your perspective of the situation. Allowing yourself to engage the other party in collaborative rather than threatening demeanour allows for more productive communication and problem-solving. 

  • To be: adopt a positive, non-verbal stance
  • To hear: proactive listening and questioning
  • To say: talk about your perspective

As with any other skill, negotiation becomes easier to navigate with consistent practice and intention. By adopting a future-forward mindset, interdependent relationships between administrators, athletes, parents and officials can strengthen for the better within your sport organization.