Negotiation skills have become an invaluable soft skill for library directors and other professionals in the library and information sciences. Especially in regard to two areas where good negotiators have an edge:
- 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.
- Maximizing Compensation and Other Employment Terms
The employment landscape has changed drastically in the past decade or so, opening doors to variables that are suitable for negotiation.
Whether you will be negotiating a vendor contract or a salary raise, the following is some essential advice that will help you develop and master this skill. At the end of the article, you will find links to further negotiation guidance provided by AALL and ALA.
Do your Homework
If you’re negotiating anything of consequence – which includes most everything – an important first step is to do your homework.
Advance preparations for negotiations include:
- Know what you want and understand to the best of your ability what your counterpart wants.
- Determine what you would be willing to concede. Identify the terms, conditions, extras and options you can do without. Consider the compromises you are willing to make.
- Identify your alternatives. How else can you get to your desired outcome? What are all the options open to you?
- Don’t rule out practicing and role-playing, especially for high-stakes negotiation. Run some 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, needs and negotiable items and then ask for them! Everything is open to discussion and anything reasonable is open to consideration and negotiation. Be ready to explain and offer a strong case as to why you are asking for what you want, and if the other party pushes back, don’t be timid about asking why your request cannot be accommodated.
In asking for what you want, it also helps to remember that it doesn’t have to be solely about costs and the lowest possible pricing. Back to our content license example, there are times when a negotiation has to do with implementing a new add on or module to a subscription, and little to do with cost cutting. These kinds of negotiations are just as important and may be more valuable in the long run.
Take One Step at a Time
Negotiation is a journey – the only variable is how long and circuitous. Will you be taking the express lane or the scenic route? When negotiating contracts, consider the first version of the document as just that – the first version of what will become, at some point, the final agreement. As with any journey, the key is to hone in on the details that apply to your situation, and take them one step at a time.
Know your Negotiating Position
Assess your strengths and weaknesses in comparison to your counterpart’s strengths and weaknesses, and be willing to use this information to determine your best options for give and take collaboration. Collaborative negotiation has largely replaced a more adversarial, “winner take all” approach with tools like BATNA and MESO, which have become standard negotiation lingo:
- BATNA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – If you can’t get what you ask for, you should not accept a worse resolution than your best alternative.
- MESO – Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers – You offer the other party multiple options, all of which are equally valued and 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 us to our 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
We don’t mean put on your armor and prepare to go to war. We do mean preparing yourself for any possible points of contention or disagreement and for a discussion of terms that you may feel uncomfortable addressing.
Katherine Shonk, with Harvard’s Program on Negotiation (PON), positions this as being “ready for the hardest questions” – those you don’t want to answer. For example, in vendor contract negotiations the hardest question you may face could be the take-it-or-leave it scenario: “This is my final offer. What’ll it be?”
Her advice on these kind of ultimatums is to reinterpret the demand in reciprocal terms and shift the conversation to a more positive tone, especially if you feel personally challenged or uncomfortable. Shonk advises that you verbalize and practice what you anticipate being the hardest questions and demands in advance – roleplay if needed, with somebody willing to challenge your responses – so that you can become comfortable saying them if needed.
Consider Professional Negotiation Help
Do you feel uncomfortable not only with the tough questions but with formal negotiations of any kind? Are you responsible for managing complex contracts and high-stakes vendor negotiations?
Consider third-party guidance and advice. Our own Chase Cost Management group has consultants with years of experience and expertise dealing specifically with library and information center vendors. They know the nuances and subtleties of the negotiation process. They have access to benchmarking data and other information to help you build a stronger business case, and they deliver crucial, unbiased advice.
Be Ready for Success
In this “new normal” era of constrained resources and rapid change, the ability to negotiate effectively starts with the right mindset, to enter into any discussion being prepared and feeling confident. It’s crucial that you go to the negotiation table with poise and assurance. Confident body language will trigger your own self-confidence and send the same signal to your counterpart.
Like many managers, library directors tend to pull out their negotiation hats only when dealing with major discussions, like annual contract renewals with content publishers and providers. However, negotiation is something we do on a regular basis, consciously or not, as we go about our personal and professional lives.
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 that anyone can use for any situation. For more guidance, you will find the following information helpful:
From the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), a helpful booklet on Negotiations in Law Libraries.
From the American Library Association, a few salary negotiation tips for library professionals.
And once again, Chase Cost Management, LAC Group’s spend management consultants.