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4 Ways to Bring Courtesy Back to Business Negotiations

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Who says business has to be unpleasant? Courtesy costs nothing and ultimately benefits everyone, so why not make a little effort and discover how great the rewards can be. 

By Alexandra Ross (Senior Counsel, Paragon Legal)

I just wrapped up an exceedingly pleasant business negotiation. Why did this experience stand out amongst the seemingly endless, often difficult and typically contentious negotiations of my career? In trying to pinpoint the reason why this particular deal went so smoothly, I realized that the opposing legal counsel and business representatives were so…. courteous.

Something as simple as having a civil and positive interpersonal interaction enabled us to focus on the issues and achieve an optimal result for our respective clients.

Courtesy is defined as a behavior marked by polished manners or respect for others (Mirriam-Webster). Courteous behavior includes consideration for others, cooperation and generosity. An attitude of kindness and politeness is a hallmark of courtesy.

“What’s the benefit of being courteous?” you might ask. You cynics out there are probably thinking “Why bother? What’s in it for me or my client?” Others may sincerely want to be more courteous but struggle to overcome modern day challenges that can stand in the way of generosity. Who has the time or energy to be nice these days?

Professional and Personal Benefits of Being Courteous

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back as effects.” Herman Melville.

The old adage “What goes around come around” is true. You may think of it as karma or personal responsibility. Simply put, your actions and attitude have an impact on others. The more you are kind and courteous to others, the more they want to be kind and courteous in return. So you can set the tone from the outset of the negotiation and others will follow.

The professional benefits of being courteous include fostering a good business reputation, encouraging repeat business and clients and enabling more efficient and productive negotiations. Being courteous benefits us personally in that we can avoid the negative effects of stressful, impolite or uncivil interactions. Instead, we can cooperate with others, which our brains are hard-wired to do and actually feels good.

Bringing Courtesy Back

Try incorporating the following suggestions to bring courtesy back to your business negotiations:

Be Sensitive to the Difference Between Substantive and Relationship Issues

Separate the substantive elements of the deal (such as pricing and legal terms) from the relationship issues. It may help to make a list of the two sets of issues and refer to them (privately) throughout the negotiations. Relationship issues include your previous interactions, perhaps negative, with a company or counterpart. Or you may have certain predetermined expectations of how this negotiation will play out. Or you may feel pressure from your manager because it’s quarter end.

These emotional components can cause anxiety, cloud your focus and make it difficult to remain cooperative and kind. By separating the substantive and emotional issues you can find a balance and an authenticity in your interpersonal interaction. It’s not necessary to remove emotion altogether so that you appear soulless or robotic. You don’t need to make concessions on substantive issues to be courteous. Continue to advocate your client’s position regarding the issues you have prioritized, standard company policies or deal breakers you have identified but be a courteous advocate by being prepared, present and communicating clearly.

Be Prepared

Being prepared for a negotiation demonstrates professionalism. Being unprepared is not only rude, it’s inefficient. It’s a waste of everyone’s time if a key member of the team is not up to speed for an important meeting. Review the relevant documents, conduct the necessary research and meet internally to understand the key deal points and your client’s position and priorities. Ideally complete these steps before you schedule the call or face-to-face meeting to negotiate. Prep your client or business representative and have them available to join the call or meeting at the appropriate time. Having the right people and relevant information at the ready shows consideration and respect for others’ time.

Be Present

You’ve separated the substantive issues from the relationship issues and you’re prepared. When it comes time for the actual negotiation, put that aside and be in the moment. Think of an actor who memorizes his lines and intensively prepares for a role, yet once the camera rolls he forgets all that and is simply present to the interaction with other actors in the scene. Similarly, in a business negotiation, you can be mindful and aware of the interactions in the moment. This means avoiding multitasking.

If you are on a conference call, it’s a good idea to close your internet browser and have only the screens and documents relevant to the particular deal available. If you are in a face-to-face meeting, put the smartphones away. Focus on the deal at hand, not the next meeting or call, not the pile of work on your desk, not where you are going for lunch. You can sense the difference and see the results when everyone is attentive and focused: things get done.

Be a Good Communicator

Adopt a congenial, respectful and gracious tone in order to establish trust and enable cooperation. We often forget basic manners – the simple things like making time for group introductions, saying “hello” and “goodbye” or saying “please” and “thank you”. Offer to let the other side present their case or arguments first. Schedule calls and meetings at a mutually convenient time of day, being sensitive to time and cultural differences. Realize how important the idle chitchat is at the beginning of a call or meeting (“How’s the weather in Chicago?” “What are you folks up to over the weekend?”) when it comes to building rapport. You don’t need to take it so far as to be obsequious – stay authentic. Just try taking a pause to recognize our basic humanity and commonality before launching right into the negotiation. Watch for rudeness or impatience, such as cutting people off when they are speaking. Most importantly, communicate in such a way – clearly and professionally – that leads to mutual understanding. For example, rather than dismissing a request for a certain deal term as “unacceptable”, explain the technical, financial or other business reasons why it won’t work in that context.

Whether you decide to adopt courteous behavior for strategic, ethical or purely personal reasons, it will have a positive impact.  Imagine walking away from your next business negotiation feeling a sense of accomplishment for a job well done, as well as that undeniably good feeling of being… dare I say it… nice.

Women 2.0 readers: Do you work at being courteous when it comes to professional relationships?

arsmallAbout the guest blogger: Alexandra Ross is Senior Counsel at Paragon Legal, working onsite at Autodesk, Inc. Previously, she managed privacy law and compliance as Associate General Counsel for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.  She is a certified information privacy professional and practices ecommerce and privacy law. 

Photo credit: Goodluz via Shutterstock