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Five Tips to Enable More Successful Negotiations

Seeking win-win outcomes strengthens relationships

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Labs benefit from strong business relationships with staff, stakeholders, and vendors. These relationships improve from effective negotiations that enable each participant to get what they need. Building enduring relationships requires the right amount of give and take during these negotiations. While short-term wins can look good for the lab, taking advantage of another party will erode the relationships required for long-term success. Learning to develop and execute win/win outcomes is a skill that will benefit every lab manager.

A negotiation is any conversation that tries to resolve at least two sides of an issue. Many negotiations involve some sort of exchange and can be about almost anything ranging from staff salary to purchase price for a new piece of equipment. Any negotiation can have four outcomes: we win, I win, I lose, or we lose. While many people focus on winning a negotiation, finding outcomes that enable everyone to win a little, and no one to lose everything, are the most powerful.

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Here are five tips to improve your negotiating skills and help you find those highly beneficial win-win outcomes.


Most people think that a great negotiator is a highly skilled orator who can convince others of their preferred outcome to a negotiation. However, the most important skill for a lab manager in a negotiation is active listening. Being willing and able to understand the nature of the negotiation and the perspectives of the other participants will set the stage for a mutually beneficial outcome. The orator can only press his advantage, while the listener can intertwine the benefits of her position with what she hears from others.

Seek needs

At the heart of negotiating for win-win outcomes is seeking needs. Needs solve problems, enable the lab to deliver its mission, and benefit the overall organization. Wants solve inconveniences. They involve small benefits that primarily serve individuals. First, understand your key needs and differentiate them from the long list of wants. Second, listen carefully for the key needs of the other participants. Ask clarifying questions to help differentiate needs and prioritize them. Be sufficiently vulnerable so that you can share your key needs and why they are important to you and your lab.

Use alternate currencies

Many negotiations center around money, from a promotional salary increase to the purchase of a new piece of capital equipment. However, there are many different currencies that can be important during negotiations, like time, recognition, help, visibility, and extra services that can all deliver higher value to the participants. It is important to seek out alternate currencies to help deliver value to each side. Negotiations that are bogged down around price and cost can often be rescued by introducing alternate currencies. An example might be extending the service warranty or including extra training on a new instrument.

Focus on the best decisions

Negotiating win-win helps identify the decisions that best benefit the organizations and relationships involved. Being able to differentiate needs and wants helps to form compromises where each party gets the key things they need, but not everything they want. This approach helps to meet the legitimate needs of the parties and resolve conflicts with fairness and equity. Focusing on needs, win-win outcomes, and the interests of the larger community reduces the tendency for individuals to press personal agendas and tends to produce more enduring agreements.

Seek agreement

When negotiating parties seek an agreement where everyone gets something they need, it often enables them to find mutually beneficial outcomes. This approach encourages parties to think out loud, pressure test alternatives, and identify appropriate concessions without feeling that they are cooperating with an enemy. This process of getting a little and giving a little keeps the participants actively engaged in the negotiation and enables them to co-create a solution to the problem.

Negotiating can be a difficult skill to master, especially if the expectation is that you need to win, and others will therefore lose. Reframe the negotiation into a conversation seeking options that benefit each side and an opportunity to strengthen important business relationships. This approach will lead to less stress and tends to generate better, fairer, and more enduring outcomes.

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