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Negotiation: Getting Comfortable with the Basics

Negotiation: Getting Comfortable with the Basics

Allison Beadle, MS, RD, LD
Editor, RDBA Weekly

Negotiation.  The word itself is enough to make many of us just a little bit nervous.  But should it?  Ask any seasoned professional and they’ll tell you that negotiation is just part of business.  And if you think about it, negotiation is just part of life. We negotiate when we buy a house or a car.  We negotiate with our kids over bedtime.  We negotiate with our spouses over domestic responsibilities. Life is literally full of negotiations.

When I was getting ready to begin my job as a retail dietitian for the Central Market Division of the H.E.B. Grocery Company, a mentor told me that I absolutely must acquire negotiation skillsthey’re critical to business success. I was daunted, to say the least.  But I’ve found over the years that the worst part about negotiation is being afraid of it. 

Throughout my career, I’ve read articles and books on the topic and have found myself actively engaged in negotiating salaries, job descriptions, contracts, budgets, programs, staffing, etc.  And although I still have much to learn, I’ve realized that negotiation, at its core, is simply a communications skill.  Let’s take a look at some basic principles to keep in mind:

  • Foster Relationships.  There’s nothing more important than an intact, open, honest relationship when you’re negotiating.  Do your part to help ensure that you have a good working relationship with anyone you could find yourself negotiating with.  Strive to build rapport by finding commonalities.  And remember that relationships are built over time, so start now.
  • Do Your Homework.  When you’re getting ready to enter a negotiation, understand the situation in its entirety.  Research the issue at hand and have hard data to back up your position.  If it’s appropriate, discuss the situation with other professionals to get their perspective.  Keep your feelings out of the conversation (yes, this can be difficult) and stay focused on the facts.
  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes.  Pretend you’re the other party.  Get inside their mind and imagine what they are thinking. Know what is important to them and how they make decisions.  This will help you anticipate their questions so you know (going back to “Doing Your Homework”) what you need to be prepared for.
  • Evaluate All Options and Scenarios.  Think through all possible solutions—identify creative alternatives that might not be readily visible, what are the pros and cons of each option, what are possible unintended consequences.  Know the argument for and against each potential solution and be able to clearly articulate your recommendation.
  • Listen and Ask.  Remember: when it comes to talking, less is more.  At the negotiation table, you must be an active listener.  By asking open-ended questions and listening carefully to the other person’s response, you will gain important insights that can be used to help strengthen your argument.  

And as with anything, negotiation takes practice.  You’ll have negotiations of varying degrees of importance throughout your career, and you’ll hone your skills with each encounter.  And before you find yourself at the table, role play with a close colleague or friend so you’ve mapped the conversation and are comfortable with it before it even takes place.

By getting comfortable with the concept of negotiation and familiarizing yourself with its basic principles, you’ll be ready to confidently advocate for yourself, your team, and your initiatives, and this will further strengthen your impact as a retail dietitian.