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Most of the problems that professionals face in the workplace are “people” problems. People have different interpretations of the same event or conversation; people have different motivations for getting a job done and people have different communication styles and personalities. These differences can be frustrating to deal with and can even lead to conflict. Some basic negotiation and communication skills can prevent conflict from taking over the workplace and can even lead to greater understanding. Here are some very simple things that you can do to improve your negotiation and communication skills right away.

Consider your interests and their interests.

Interests motivate us. We make decisions and take positions based on our interests. We all have interests and interests are always positive. For example, we all want to be paid for the work that we perform, we want to be shown respect, and we want to be treated fairly.

When faced with a statement that seems somewhat confrontational or out of line, stop to consider what may be motivating that person to say that. Then think about what will be motivating you to respond. According to the author of the book Bargaining for Advantage, skilled negotiators spend four times more time thinking about what interests may be motivating the other party than less skilled negotiators.

Communicate with purpose.

When you seek to solve a problem speak with purpose. Too often people start talking and do not know what they want to accomplish or where they want to go with the conversation.

“Think before you speak.” We have all heard it before, but it is a very important adage that we all need to apply in every conversation. Do you want to get a better understanding of where the other person is coming from? Do you need to point out some problems with that person’s work? Do you want to re-organize job duties? Each of these purposes lend a different tone to the conversation. Align your purpose in the conversation with the tone you take and the words you choose.

Align yourselves around a common purpose

The purpose for negotiating with someone –anyone– is to determine if you share enough interests and common ground to realize a common purpose. Each time parties come together for a common purpose only some of their interests will be shared interests; they will also have some opposing interests as well. This applies to every negotiation whether it is with a patient about a bill, a new contract with a vendor, a co-worker you share responsibilities with or a family member about vacation plans. The key is to align yourselves in areas of shared interests and then negotiate the other areas from that alignment.

So, before you begin a negotiation consider where there might be some alignment around some common purpose and start the negotiations off with that tone. For example, “We are here today to talk about what can be done to improve patient care and specifically how to improve response time to customer inquiries.” Each person may have several different thoughts on how this can be achieved, but by aligning yourselves to the common purpose of improving patient care, you are more likely to find an agreeable way to accomplish this purpose and in less time.

The next time that you find yourself faced with a “people” problem try negotiations. You will be pleasantly surprised by the results you will achieve.