As Chester Karrass — the author of several highly-regarded books on negotiation — wisely wrote: “In business as in life, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.”
In this quick guide we outline why negotiation is such an important skill to master and how you can improve your ability to negotiate with confidence.
When to negotiate
It’s part of a product manager’s job to negotiate with those around them all the time, admittedly often unconsciously or in subtle ways. So whether it’s keeping team relationships going, working out what to prioritise, hammering out the details of a new remuneration package, advocating for extra budget, like it or not, the likelihood is that you’re negotiating with someone. Product managers have to negotiate all the time, so skillful negotiating can make your life (and that of your team) much easier.
If you see negotiation as a time to go into combat mode, then you should rethink this attitude. Good negotiation, where everyone has contributed to an agreed outcome, helps to build better relationships and can make an immense contribution to business success. Product coach and consultant Jen Swanson says there’s a win/win opportunity in any negotiation: “It’s much better to view negotiation as a dance rather than a battle, so that you come together in a way that works for both of you. Product managers negotiate all the time, so coming at it with a combative attitude is not a pleasant way to do your job.”
It’s much better to view negotiation as a dance rather than a battle, so that you come together in a way that works for both of you
There’s always an opportunity for a mutually beneficial “elegant” solution, says Jen. It’s what many people call principled negotiation, and she characterises it as “the joy in product management”. “It’s not compromise, but a different scenario that satisfies both sides,” she says, “if we’re at two different points, how do we get to alignment?.”
How to negotiate with confidence
While there’s a whole industry of books, training courses, and seminars on how to negotiate successfully, here are a few of our top tips for product managers:
- If you feel uncomfortable about negotiation, reframe it as a creative endeavour and the opportunity to create a solution that meets everyone’s needs. Doing this can turn a negative experience into a positive one.
- Prepare by looking for mutually beneficial solutions. Assume positive intent, figure out where the other party is, what they want, and how far towards them you can move.
- Remember to remove the personal and not to think about what you want, but what the team wants to do.
- Remove the word “they”. Remember that no matter who you’re negotiating with, you all work for the same business, and empathy goes a long way. “Those compliance and regulatory people are keeping us out of orange jumpsuits,” jokes Jen.
- Remind people there are only three levers you can pull — as Jen says, you can only negotiate for time, space and resources: “Product managers are always asked to deliver more value faster. Sometimes you need to remind people that you can only change these three dimensions, and ask them which one they want to discuss.”
Learn more about negotiating
Mind the Product has plenty of resources to help you improve your negotiation skills.
This #mtpengage Manchester talk from Garry Prior, director of product at THG Ingenuity, Negotiate Like a Pro(duct Manager) looks at key areas to focus on, while this post from Chris Bell, Negotiation in Product Management, also looks at principled negotiation.
This post, Negotiating with Sales: A Guide for Product Managers, offers a framework for principled negotiation with sales teams.