Negotiation, a valuable skill to develop

Candia Emmanuel

“… negotiating, not about how cheap you can be. It’s not about saving a few dollars; it’s the ability to influence others ethically to get what you want. It’s not about manipulation, which would lack character. It’s about influence – with character. “- Anthony Tormey

An Ad on TV and Radio by one of the Telecom Companies few years ago that marketed one of their products showed a man negotiating for a discount on the actual price and upon successful negotiation, he continued, asking for a further discount on that discount he had. Many people liked the ad. It actually became a cliché too and a number people, including me used it to negotiate prices on some things I needed to spend on.

Negotiating is perhaps natural to most Ugandans especially in the business arena. People somewhat expect things to always be cheaper. They negotiate prices of food, clothing and other groceries, cost of buying vehicles, land and other heavy capital investments and even cost of various services they want to access. People even rigorously negotiate the price of a cluster of ripe bananas on the streets or vegetables in a market stall with the street venders aching a living.

Many Ugandans are not seen negotiating when purchasing a price-tagged item off the shelves in a super market or other high-end shop. There they pay the value on the price tag because they understand the complexity of getting through negotiations. To that end, super markets and such high-end shops sometimes make a large profit marketing low priced products through discount marketing strategy.

The Baganda, a tribal grouping in Uganda have a saying, “nnyama ntono okayana eri mu nkwawa” meaning, while negotiating, first secure the agreed portion into your care however small it may be, and then you can negotiate for more.  A saying that nails the point on not going empty handed in your demand for more while negotiating. It also entrenches the ethos, practices and the spirit involved in negotiating. Customarily, cultural elders in dowry negotiations have used it during marriage arrangements across diverse cultural groups like the Lugbara, Madi, Alur, Acholi and others around Africa. It thus is cultural to negotiate.

COVID19 pandemic has had several implications especially in the economic sense. Many peoples livelihoods are affected, employments have been lost, businesses are struggling and some have collapsed. Yet we have to continue living, eating food, buying groceries, paying rent for housing and offices, healthcare and education among others. Many people will now need to negotiate their employment terms differently, negotiate for their pays, bank loan repayments, interest rates applicable, contracts that have gone bad etc. How do we effectively do this? We must learn to negotiate and discuss even more effectively to get positions that work for us.

Negotiation, great and cultural as it may appear is not a smooth ride for many. At times, it stretches your patience, character, your emotional and mental intelligence. It enables you weather through difficult moments advancing not just your interest but listening to and accommodating the interest of the other persons. More than ever, you cannot avoid engaging in it. You must in fact not fear to engage in negotiation. You must consistently and skillfully build your art in negotiating settlements, prices, positions, interests and disputes too. As noted, ‘negotiating is not about how cheap you can be; it’s not about saving a few dollars; it’s the ability to influence others ethically to get what you want.’

Without a doubt, negotiation as a skill is a critical to develop by everyone, professionals or even as an ordinary person as it is very relevant in a day-to-day basis and valuable in life’s most basic needs. At a professional level, developing this skill by a dispute resolution lawyer is fundamental. Investing one’s time and resources learning the art of negotiation will add immensely towards de-escalating disputes, and finding peaceful and easy ways of resolving brewing conflicts from this pandemic.   

What things need we do to improve our negotiation skills?

  1. Be a good listener, not just with the ears what the other person is saying on the surface. Listen to know what their fears, their interests so that you can empathize with them effectively. Listen and place yourself in their shoe. What would you take or give up if you were in their shoes.
  2. Be bold, assertive and clear. Do not fear to put your own interest on the table with boldness and firmness. Know that in negotiations you have an interest to protect and position to gain too. Evaluate those interests you wish to safeguard and state them as they are. Prioritize your concerns or interests to see what you can give up easily and what you cannot.
  3. Be humble. This sounds like a contradiction from the above point but not quite. Humility is an attitude that does not bring you to override your opponent unfairly. Humility helps you keep power in control and moderation. In negotiation, there are sides and each side matters however insignificant they may appear to be. Humility helps you remain considerate of all the interests at play. You might have an upper hand in the negotiation, remain humble so that the other party does not see you as an oppressor taking from them forcefully but they willingly give up their position in a win-win approach.
  4. Know when to stop. There is a time for everything; a time to start and a time to end. Do not over insist on a position you could otherwise let go and drag on and on. Keep sensitive; negotiations can stretch emotions and breed tensions among the parties. Where parties are not self-controlled and with clear strategy, it could lead to a break in the negotiations and thus a win-lose or lose-lose situation for parties.
  5. Keep learning and practicing what you have learned. Practice makes perfect, is not just an adage, it is true. The more you practice the more you improve. There are books and resources that address this subject from different angles. Investing time to read and build your knowledge on such a subject is worth every penny. Beyond the acquisition of the knowledge is the practice of the art for your daily personal and business related transactions.