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Deal or no Deal? The Art of Negotiating

Negotiating is a hallmark of good industrial relations. It goes beyond the concept of a mere ‘consultation’ and instead, seeks to engage the input of all directly-affected stakeholders (or their designated representatives) in a shared environment of good faith, while working toward a mutually-beneficial outcome.

Unlike mediation, or even arbitration, which usually follow the breakdown of discussions between the parties, a negotiation seeks to identify the contentious facts and issues at hand. Subsequently, through an application of the relevant law (and even ‘established’ precedent and anecdotal evidence), this process seeks to create the environment for a more equitable, favourable outcome for all involved.

In the modern work environment, negotiating is arguably even more relevant, as the workplace becomes: (i) a more visibly diverse space e.g. through a greater number of women, young people, persons who have disabilities, more ethnic and national variety, and of course, increased and wider skill assortment, as well as (ii) a more spatially diverse space through the greater, more regular use of digital technology, distributed and/or remote work, et cetera.

Yet, these above contemporary developments take place against the background of a highly fluid labour landscape. To date, this includes: (i) demands by employees and potential employees for a more equitable work-life balance; (ii) addressing the continued disparity of pay between men and women performing the same job; (iii) greater emphasis on mental health and job satisfaction among employees; and (iv) greater use of contract labour/fixed-term employment by employers, leading to less job security for employees.

Therefore, how does one begin to negotiate in such fluid, uncertain times? Here are three (3) points to always bear in mind:

1. Nobody ever wins 100 percent- Because negotiating is meant to bring stakeholders to a place of relative mutual satisfaction, no single entity will ever receive all of their demands. Instead, it boils down to: (i) what can be agreed; (ii) what can be forfeited; and (iii)what can be resolved now, or, in the immediate future.

2. Negotiations are as much about the personalities involved, as the issues: The issues at hand in a negotiation will hardly ever change drastically. Generally however, the success (or corresponding failure) of a negotiation depends on the temperament and demeanour of the persons present in the room: Who is willing to listen, and, who is not? Who is willing to be flexible, and, who is not? Also, who is willing to be civil and engaging, and, who is not?

3. Negotiations are not just about what is stated on paper: Law, policies and procedures are more often than not, the minimum standard that employers, employees and/or union representatives are required to observe. Therefore, sometimes, negotiating requires thinking outside the box, as well as thinking critically about: (i) what is at stake; (ii) why it matters; and, (iii) what is the most practical, simplest way to achieve a mutually-favourable outcome.

Negotiations are for everyone, but, only a truly skilled individual can competently negotiate.

Keywords: LinkedIn Local Caribbean, negotiations, stakeholders, workplace, outcome

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