April 2021 | 

Honing Your Skills: Lessons from a Skilled Negotiator

Honing Your Skills: Lessons from a Skilled Negotiator

“I am involved in large, complex deals constantly,” says Ceyhun Karababa, a regional director for a Fortune 500 technology firm. “It’s a very competitive environment, with companies like Accenture, IBM, Deloitte, EY, Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, and Wipro competing on both value and price. I need to negotiate effectively with client executives like VPs of procurement, IT leaders, CIOs, and CFOs and close deals. My primary objective in attending Negotiation and Influence: Making Deals and Strategy Work was to get better at such situations.”

Karababa says even coming to the program with years of experience, he left with powerful new insights and tools. One of the most important lessons is that negotiations are not all about tactics: maximizing value requires a strategic approach. “Never go in unless you have studied the other party in detail and are prepared to make concessions,” he says. “Be clear on the value the other party will get out of the deal. You can still work to get a reasonably high part of the value, but accept that they also have to leave the negotiation with something meaningful.”

The program presents new concepts each week that are then reinforced through actual negotiations. Karababa says he learned something “new and incremental” from “each and every case. The first was about the importance of building and maintaining relationships for the long term, even in today’s transactional negotiation age. Relationships tie into maximizing value: a bad negotiating situation can be made better when you have a relationship to fall back on. Even after the negotiation, work to build them.”

In addition to those insights, he says three specific takeaways have changed the way he approaches negotiations:

  1. Understand the other party better and more. “This takes a lot of preliminary work,” he explains. “Study the facts, know industry benchmarks. During the negotiation, ask questions and use active listening to help bring the pieces of the puzzle together. Do not take anything for granted or make assumptions.”
  2. Identify the “Zone of Possible Agreement” (ZOPA). “This was a new concept for me,” says Karababa. “Think of this as the entire pie — all of the possible value available to both parties. Finding it is not a tactic but rather a part of your preparations. Show that you understand the other party’s needs and concerns, and invite them to be more open to collectively increasing the ZOPA. Once you have defined it, then you can work to claim a reasonable piece of the pie using tools, leverages, and frameworks.”
  3. Ensure negotiators have credibility in the eyes of the other party. “This is something I now continually refer to and share. Authority, expertise, competence, and trustworthiness establish your credibility — know what you are talking about and give hints or ‘proof points’ about your competency and expertise,” says Karababa. “This helps to get them to listen to you carefully. The way to win trust is to establish a meaningful level of transparency and to make reasonable concessions even when you don’t have to. Give the clear signal that you have the authority to make a deal or leave the room with an impasse.”

The final negotiation of the program is the most complex, involving multiple parties and the need for building and managing coalitions. “You need to bring together different points of view and even different areas of expertise,” says Karababa. “Above all, be yourself and be authentic.”

The impact of Negotiation and Influence goes well beyond new strategies and tools. Karababa says dealing with online negotiations after years of conducting them in person was challenging. “The program gave me the chance to practice multiple times, online, against people with similar seniority. I even took lessons from the way professors Richard Shell and Cade Massey ran the program — how you present information online can greatly increase your effectiveness.”