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How to perfect your negotiation skills

As a fleet manager negotiation is critical. Suppliers, drivers, technicians, business leaders, clients – all have different needs. The fleet manager, with a limited set of resources, will only ever be able to partially meet them.

Negotiation is a hugely underrated skill. Most of us are employed based on a loose set of personality compatibilities and the capabilities we set down on our CV. It’s only once we’re in that role that we realise that negotiation forms a large part of our function.

Some people have a natural talent for negotiation but for the most part it is learned. Here we share seven tips that will help you up your negotiation game.

Preparation not perspiration
You can only negotiate successfully if you fully understand the landscape. You need to know not just what you want to get out of the arrangement, but what the other party will be looking for. It’s up to you to decide how much give and take on that you’re willing to go with. To exert pressure in the ‘take’ direction needs to be backed up with solid reasoning.

Balance process with outcome
Negotiation isn’t a points-scoring exercise. You need to be alert to each stage of the process. Understand when pressing for a ‘win’ you might actually be pushing more on point of principle than your actual need. The ability to give a little improves your leverage.

You will have entered the negotiation armed with two things – an idea of what you want to achieve and a presumption about what the other party wants. During the process you can expect to have both of these challenged. You will only be able to respond to these changes if you really listen to what the other party is saying. Aim to talk less than 30 percent of the time and use that talking time to ask questions. The more you learn about the other party, the better your position becomes.

Start high
Begin your negotiations at the top limit of feasible expectations. This has two effects. First, raising your own expectations sets a more positive attitude towards the negotiation. Secondly, you leave yourself room for negotiation making it less frustrating to compromise because you have given yourself and the other party more room for manoeuvre.

Understand their needs
As part of your preparation, see the negotiation process from their side. While it can certainly help your case to understand what problems they might have if the negotiation fails, being seen to help them meet their needs will also make them more inclined to help you meet yours.

Be specific
Only promise what you can deliver and be specific about what you promise. Generalisations are open to interpretation and when people leave the negotiating table feeling they have achieved their aim only to discover the result is not what they assumed, you are even further back than when you started. This leads to resentment and mistrust. Leave no room for interpretation on the what, when, where and how. Get the other party to repeat back to you the details of the deal so you are sure you both understand what is involved and record the outcome clearly.

Walk away
There is a sense that once you’re in a negotiation you’ve got to keep thrashing away at it until it’s done. You may need to revisit the conversation more than once. More information may be required; more steps may need to be completed before both parties can fully understand what the outcome should be. And always make sure you can say ‘no’. Your position is stronger if the other party knows your needs are not entirely dependent on the outcome of this particular negotiation. Having no other options isn’t a negotiation, it’s a request.

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