Is negotiation another word for compromise? Possibly, but we like to think of it as cooperation. Both sides should leave the table feeling satisfied that their voices have been heard, regardless of what they may have lost to obtain the mutually agreeable solution. In the community association setting, negotiation skills are essential to the effective and efficient resolution of issues before they become bull-blown disputes. Successful negotiations should not result in a winner and a loser; that’s for the courtroom. Successful negotiations should result in both parties leaving the table feeling satisfied, and without resentment.
As a Board member, you may face disputes from all sides, such as with an owner, another director, your association manager, etc. The following are 10 steps to assist you with successful negotiations:
- Be Prepared: Sounds trite but it’s true. Do your homework. What do they really want? What are their motivations? What are their options? What are their pressures?
- Become a good listener: Ask questions and shut-up. Silence may offer the other person a good opportunity to express their true feelings on the problem, which may then lead to new solutions. This type of knowledge will never reveal itself, unless you learn to keep quiet and open your ears.
- Clarify your interests and anticipate theirs: Make sure you have thought through all the options, which should be reasonable for both sides. To persuade the other side to say yes, your ideas will have to address their interests as well as yours.
- Tone is everything: To be persuasive, you need to let the other side know that you are ready and willing to listen and seek to understand their views and feelings on the issue. And you should expect the same from them. Avoid ultimatums and threats at all costs!
- Brainstorm Options: Remember that you’re attempting to satisfy everyone’s interests, not just your own. First come up with realistic solutions together, then decide among them. You don’t need to commit to a solution in the beginning – this can come at the end.
- Don’t Focus on Positions, Focus on Satisfaction: Both parties need to feel satisfied. Don’t focus on the positions of each side, which is what each side says they want. Instead focus on obtaining the essential interests of each side, which is what they need.
- Aim high, but be realistic: Have high aspirations, but at the same time only suggest options to which the other party can realistically say yes.
- Think through your alternatives: In case you can’t persuade the other side to say yes, be ready with Plan B. You need to know what you’ll do if you have to walk away from the table.
- Always be willing to walk away if negotiating a solution isn’t possible. Enough said.
- Learn from your experience. The only way you can improve your negotiation skills is to learn from your experiences. After you finish negotiations, reflect on what you did that worked well, and what you might want to do differently in the future.