Business development 27 July 2016

Ten business negotiating tips now Brexit is real

Business owners need stay in control to negotiate effectively

Writing for Business Advice, procurement negotiation expert Jonathan O’Brien, offers up his tips on what Britain can do to survive and emerge with strength in the “new Europe”, following the Brexit vote.

It’s hard to find any commentary that doesn’t assert a view on Brexit at the moment, but it’s even more difficult to find real help and guidance on what business leaders, politicians and the rest of us need to get on and do.

There is much talk of the need for negotiation, and lots of it. Current political rhetoric risks painting a picture of the forthcoming Brexit world as one where we all wait eagerly for specialist negotiators to charge in on white horses and save us from certain catastrophe.

Here, I’ve provided a snapshot of the difficulties faced by business. I begin to outline what Britain really needs to do to survive and emerge with strength in the new Europe and the international marketplace beyond.

Brexit, and the changes that will unfold over coming months and years, isn’t only the concern of politicians driving negotiations at national level.

Of course, governments will need to talk about how trade might continue, but Brexit will also demand that we all have good negotiation skills because somewhere, at some point, there will be Brexit-triggered changes that affect us and the organisations we work for.

We will need to agree a new way forward, and the degree to which we will need to do this is only just becoming clear. If our personal or professional lives have any connection with the EU – any interaction, relationship, customer or supply arrangement, or need to comply with EU laws and standards, for example – then we will most likely find need to roll up our negotiating sleeves. Otherwise, waiting for politicians to “do deals” will leave us lagging behind.

So what are we up against? Today, it is widespread ignorance of the strength of the UK’s position. The more we talk of a need to negotiate, the more we weaken the country’s position, giving trading partners time in the face of a desperate attempt to end uncertainty.

Britain also seems to be experiencing widespread crises of confidence in its ability to negotiate a way to a new, potentially better place.

Those countries’ we will need to negotiate with didn’t choose to be in this situation, and may resent being forced to “come to the table”, deciding instead to play “hard to get”.

The talk already is about what can be used as bargaining chips with the rest of Europe. Free trade requires free movement of people – so ex-pats and foreign nationals become political negotiating tools.

Whether at the national, company or individual level, the problem with this approach is that negotiation can soon degenerate into an exaggerated game of chicken, where there can only be one winner.

“Chicken” negotiations achieve only short term wins – the UK has too much at stake to negotiate in this way, so we need a different approach.

For businesses, negotiation shouldn’t be difficult. Whether negotiating trade deals, how to work with a supplier or establishing cross-border deals with a customer, these simple steps will help business owners stay in control and negotiate effectively.

(1) Stand strong and tall

When negotiating, business owners must take time to understand the strength of their position, which is most likely greater than they realise. Do your homework, make a plan and take the lead early on. But, don’t be over-confident –arrogance can work against you.

(2) If we have something they want

Business owners will, in most cases, be negotiating for something they already have, but in a new context. If our arrangement between governments, companies or individuals worked well for both parties before, neither will want to jeopardize that. However, watch out for your partner seizing the opportunity to nudge things a little bit more in their favour.

(3) They have to come to the table

You might encounter resentment at having to “come to the table”. In an interdependent business relationship, your counterpart will have to negotiate sooner or later, even if they present the illusion they want to hold back.

Would a country really want to damage exports, or a company lose a vital supplier, for the sake of pride? It’s unlikely, and even if it were the case, good relationship-building can counter this. If they are not playing ball, help them see the consequences of inaction.

(4) Create time – Remove your dependency and find their dependency

If a business partner sees that you need to cut a deal quickly or that you are dependent on them, it gives them the power to negotiate a better deal.

Instead, business owners must find a way to create more time. Figure out what to do to remove a dependency on your business partner, and you gain a vital foothold. Equally important is an understanding of how dependent a counterpart is on you – using this as leverage in negotiations.

(5) Work out the negotiables

Be clear about what it is your business wants and needs – your “negotiables”. You must also anticipate the needs of your counterpart, it may be what they try to use as bargaining chips against you.

It is essential to negotiate around the “big picture” and to deploy the “something for something” principle, while avoiding agreeing to one-sided mini-concessions along the way.

Click “next” below for five final tips for negotiating business deals in international markets post-Brexit.

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