The accounting profession often focuses on mathematical prowess and business savvy as core traits, while people skills – particularly the art of negotiation – are often undervalued.
The ability to negotiate is a key skill for those in all people-facing industries, not just for salespeople or customer service personnel.
Negotiation is a vital part of your daily professional life. An accountant could expect to negotiate with new or existing clients regarding payment terms, with employees and fellow staff about rostering or task prioritisation, or with management about pay and promotions.
Negotiations can also take place externally; for example, drawing up lead-swap arrangements with professional contacts or dealing with stock and software suppliers.
People often think of negotiations as one-sided (i.e. getting their own way). Yet negotiation, by definition, is a two-way process, involving some give and take to find a middle ground.
A good negotiator relies on skills including:
- Listening: Hearing what the other party says.
- Clarification: Not just hearing but comprehending what is said. If in doubt, ask.
- Empathy: Seeing the situation from the other side.
- Communication: Communicating and justifying a point of view.
- Objectivity: Thinking about the deal as a problem, then identifying solutions that work for both parties.
- Patience: Avoiding rushed agreements that may not work out.
- Flexibility: Being prepared to compromise to achieve a common goal.
- Realism: Being realistic about what you hope to achieve and how much you can offer.
- Respect: Rather than winning at all costs, professionally and courteously compromising for mutual benefit.
Nurturing negotiation skills
Like all skills, negotiation skills require practice to remain in good working order.
Thankfully these skills are ones that can be practised on an everyday basis, in all manner of situations and within various professional and personal relationships.
At home, you can negotiate everything from who will clean up the dinner dishes to which social engagements to attend. In the office, there will be different sorts of negotiations taking place.
Be conscious of every negotiation you are involved with and then evaluate your performance once an agreement is reached. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Does the agreement achieve what I want?
- Is the agreement in the interests of the other party?
- Do I understand where the other party was coming from?
- Did the negotiation remain professional and/or courteous?
- If you’re still not a confident negotiator, there are various courses in business negotiation you can take, like this one from UNSW Australia Business School.
The key point is that negotiation is a consultative process. Once everyone understands what the boundaries are and why, then the discussions are much more likely to be fruitful all round.
Communication is an essential part of negotiation, and understanding the difference between talking and communicating is key. Soft Skills for Accounting Professionals may be helpful in understanding how to effectively communicate with your clients, whilst gaining CPD points.