Negotiation skills have become an invaluable soft skill for library directors in maximizing library resources. When budgets, staff and other resources are constrained and closely scrutinized, negotiation skills can make the difference between getting what you need or going without.
Following is some basic advice to help you master this skill.
Do your homework
If you’re negotiating anything of consequence, an important first step is to be prepared. Winging it is not a good negotiation strategy!
Advance preparations for negotiations include:
- Know what you want and understand to the best of your ability what your counterpart wants.
- Consider your “must have” terms and those you can do with out, and identify the compromises you are willing to make.
- Understand your alternatives and options for getting to a desired outcome.
- Run possible scenarios through your mind and come up with specific language to address the questions and issues that may arise.
Ask for what you want
This seems too basic to state, but surprisingly many negotiators fail to clearly identify their wants and needs. Anything reasonable is open to consideration and negotiation. Be ready to explain a strong case for what you want, with supporting data to back you up. If the other party pushes back, don’t be timid about asking why your request cannot be accommodated.
Take one step at a time
Negotiation is a journey. When negotiating contracts, consider the first version as just that – a first version that will become, at some point, the final agreement. As with any journey, the key is to map out the details and make sure they are addressed.
Know your negotiating position
Collaborative negotiation has largely replaced a more adversarial, “winner take all” approach with tools like BATNA and MESO:
- BATNA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – If you can’t get what you ask for, aim for your best alternative.
- MESO – Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers – Having multiple options, all of which are equally acceptable to you.
When the negotiation involves vendor contracts and other aspects of library management, a more comprehensive approach is to look at total costs, which comes with its own acronym: TCOP (Total Cost of Procurement) or TCOO (Total Cost of Operations).
This brings me to my final tip, which pertains to a situation that few negotiators like to encounter but should be prepared to handle nonetheless.
Be ready for difficult negotiation situations
Most contract negotiations are very civil, but it’s important to prepare yourself for contention or disagreement and to be willing to discuss items you may feel uncomfortable addressing.
Practice what you anticipate being the hardest questions and demands in advance, even role-playing with somebody willing to challenge your responses. It can help you feel more comfortable saying them if and when the time comes in the actual negotiation. And as difficult as your negotiation may become, try to keep a positive, friendly tone.
Be ready for success
The ability to negotiate effectively starts with the right mindset, which will allow you to enter into any discussion feeling confident and capable. Along with being well-prepared, it’s crucial that you go to the negotiation table with poise and assurance, even if you have to act as if! Confident body language and a friendly demeanor will trigger your self-confidence, help you relax, and show that you are ready for a productive meeting.
Consider negotiation guidance
Are you responsible for managing complex contracts and high-stakes vendor negotiations?
If so, and especially if you are naturally uncomfortable with the process, consider third-party guidance and advice. Our Chase Cost Management team includes former library directors and other people with years of experience dealing with library and information center vendors. They know the nuances and subtleties of the negotiation process. They have access to everything from SKUs to benchmarking data to help you build a stronger business case, and they deliver detached, unbiased advice.
Negotiation is an inherent skill for some people. For others, it can be acquired with study and practice. The above tips are just a handful of ideas I hope you find helpful.