As an experienced planner with over 21 years in local government and around 7 years as a consultant I have found myself negotiating many times; indeed I have probably done it three or four times today alone, either with my clients or with officers in local planning authorities.
The reality is that planning almost always involves negotiation and so you can’t really avoid it. Well, you could, but you wouldn’t make a very good planner. In most cases you can’t dictate what another party must or must not do, so you have to negotiate in order to get an outcome you are happy with.
Can you learn to be a good negotiator? Definitely, and these basic rules will help you improve your confidence and performance while you develop your negotiating skills.
Know what you are trying to achieve. Is it a clear aim, or some muddled ideal that may not even be attainable? Get this straight in your mind from the outset. If you don’t know what outcome you are aiming for your negotiations are pretty much doomed to fail from the start.
Understand and play the ‘game’. Every negotiator uses some form of “technique” designed to maximise their advantage. If you can familiarise yourself with these techniques you can learn how to counter them when they come from others across the table and, of course, how to use them yourself. Negotiations may involve some bluster or bravado, or even some old fashioned ‘horse trading’ but often you will be able to rely on your position because ultimately the other side needs something from you and that allows you to get something from them.
Knowledge is power. The number one “power tool” at your disposal is knowledge. It never ceases to amaze me when a planner attempts to negotiate with me, without for example, reading the relevant high court judgement on how to properly interpret policy, or making sure they understand what they can and cannot ask for at validation stage. If I have that knowledge do they seriously think I’m not going to use it to my advantage?
Prepare as much as possible. I appreciate that it’s difficult to find time to prepare and it can be tempting to just go in there and “wing it” but the reality is that those who prepare best usually get the best results. Under-preparation in advance of a negotiation can be a planner’s most costly mistake.
You won’t always win. You need to understand that there are times when you will fail but try to turn these into positives. Put your professional ego to one side and learn from your failures; they are valuable learning opportunities.
Increased confidence as a negotiator will ultimately benefit your personal development and your career. The further up the ladder you go, the more complex the work and issues become and the more you will need to employ your negotiating skills.
Being a good negotiator really matters!
Chris Weetman is an independent planning consultant and associate with Trevor Roberts Associates.