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Volume 8 | Issue 10

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Negotiating In the New Environment

While businesses are learning countless lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic, let’s focus on the often-overlooked principles of “Negotiating.”  These foundational themes provide the tools and techniques that help ease the pain, and aid the transition to new ways of conducting post-pandemic business.

The challenges from the COVID-19 virus did and is still creating hardships for many individuals and businesses, small and large. It’s done so for almost two years now. Yet, many companies and organizations still manage to survive and even thrive even in the face of swiftly changing realities. How are they doing this? What has changed? We can begin this assessment by looking just a few of the actions that stand out.

  • Employers mapped out “Work from Home” policies.
  • Businesses renegotiated with their vendors and customers and continue to do so as events change. 
  • Neighborhood sellers started accepting online orders
  • Online ordering expanded across a much larger range of products and services
  • The number and scope of services to a person’s front door grew exponentially 

Retail businesses (like movie theaters, restaurants, and businesses) made new deals with mall owners and landlords to stay afloat. Likewise, residential properties promulgated new rules and regulations for their residents and vendors. While countless lessons have and are still being learned, courtesy of the pandemic, let’s now focus on the often-overlooked principles of “Negotiation” as they apply to today’s pandemic environment. 

Properly handled, these principles help ease the pain and aid in the transition to new ways of conducting many aspects of our business and personal lives. In addition, as a result of this pandemic, several oft-neglected negotiation techniques are becoming more relevant and applicable.

That said, the fundamentals don’t change. The challenge is to know how to use these fundamentals in new environments. So, let’s review them.

  1. Know Yourself: During the past 24 months, boundaries around home and work became blurred, and many feel that working from home full-time is not good for our families or our productivity. For example, should we work on weekends because there is a lockdown? Not having clear-cut schedules and boundaries creates more conflicts for everyone. Therefore, it’s essential to understand your obligations and needs clearly. It is just as easy to overwork yourself at home as at the office.
  2. Know others: Concurrently, you need to understand other people’s needs. It’s essential to create a shared plan with all those involved – not just your boss and coworkers, but your spouse, children, or partner – as to when and what they should expect of you. Consider what you are mutually working to achieve in terms of goals and objectives and what you are willing to accept. Consider this your walkaway point.
  3. Listen to others: Crafting compromises and building consensus in this new environment means taking into account the unexpected. For example, employers cannot expect employees to respond promptly if structural or technical limitations to working from home go unresolved. In addition, when employers demand employees “Work from Home,” many of these employees lacked the required infrastructure in their homes. Companies that responded to these constraints fared better than those that chose half-measures.

    Large organizations, midsize companies, and small practitioners soon found themselves buying laptops, mobile phones, and internet broadband plans to enable their employees to work from home effectively. Not only did employees need additional resources, but families as well. For example, educational institutions at all levels began offering financial aid and flexible schedules to help their students cope with mandatory online classes.

  4. Offer what others may need: In addition to offering existing infrastructure (physical, digital, intellectual) to your counterpart, coworker, providing support to key vendors, or suppliers also helped reduce the overall costs for all parties. Beyond this, some organizations also realized that offering unused or underutilized assets can bring down the overall costs for other involved parties.

  5. It’s more than a “zero-sum” game: A huge problem in past negotiations was treating every negotiation as a conflict, and the goal was to wear down the “opponent(s).”  In today’s Covid environment, it’s important to let go of the “win-lose” mentality and move towards more win-win, or better still, win-win-win outcomes. 

    Many corporate, business and retail operations shut down during the lockdowns and found it necessary to renegotiate with their creditors. At the same time, these creditors had their own set of fixed costs to handle, including ongoing security, maintenance, and utilities, to name but a few. Losing their major customers/tenants during this time affects their reputation and business capabilities when things get back to normal. 

    Most parties realize taking on a competitive negotiation stance in these situations is unproductive. Therefore, most of those involved in pandemic-driven negotiations figured out ways to move beyond the fixed-pie mentality. Additionally, finding compatible goals leads parties to understand each other’s needs and create mutually possible values instead of conflicts.
  6. Don’t fall in love: The pandemic lockdowns and constantly changing government protocols required business people, and their organizations, to be nimble in a rapidly changing world. Unfortunately, we often focus on or become fixated on a challenging employee, coworker, customer, or vendor. 

    Falling “in love” with one specific option (a favorite provider, car, house, job) in a negotiation situation can be counter-productive and put one at a disadvantage. What happens when negotiations fail to work out with your “favorite” option?
  7. Know your Best Alternatives: When movie theaters shut down, many film producers quickly figured out ways to reach out to their audiences. These filmmakers released many potential blockbusters through OTT (over the internet) platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. While streaming media formats have been around for some time, the pandemic enhanced their acceptability as a viable distribution platform for movie makers. 

    Our negotiation power depends on how many viable alternatives we have and how willing we are to think and act outside the box. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for us all to look, whenever possible, at several options for success.
  8. Be Willing to Walk Away: A bad deal is just that, and it is crucial to understand that sometimes a desirable outcome isn’t possible. Therefore, when faced with unreasonable demands that threaten to undermine our business, we must, on principle and faith, be prepared to walk away.

The ability to negotiate is an increasingly important skill in highly dynamic environments such as the ones we face at this time. These skills help resolve conflicts at home, workplace, and society. When we apply and use these principles in our own personal and business lives, we can function within and ultimately survive the disruptive environments of today.

Food for Thought:  As a negotiator, you need to understand individual interests, not only organizational ones. You should also understand how organizational interests are distorted at the individual level. (Mikael Krapivin)

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