VIDEO: Learning the art of negotiation

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He is CEO of one of the world’s leading sales and negotiation skills specialists, but even he can be outsmarted during a negotiation.

Tony Hughes, boss of global business school Huthwaite International, who from their Rotherham HQ work across 32 countries, is forgiven, though.

Tony Hughes, CEO of Huthwaite International, Wentworth gives negotiation tips to Jo Davison. Picture: Andrew Roe

Tony Hughes, CEO of Huthwaite International, Wentworth gives negotiation tips to Jo Davison. Picture: Andrew Roe

The adversary able to outsmart him is his seven-year-old daughter.

How many leading business brains will recognise themselves as the floundering failure in this little scenario, told to me by Tony as an arch example of poor negotiation....

Preparing to go away for a weekend with friends, dad Tony is faced with a child requesting her bike also makes the trip. Dad patiently explains the answer is no as there will be things to do on holiday – and people to do them with.

But his reason is met with a child’s favoured reply: Why? Tony offers several other equally valid reasons, each of which is parried by the why word. Finally, an exasperated Tony declares there’s simply no room in the car for the bike. Big mistake.

He later discovers his daughter has managed to ram her bike into the boot of the car. She wins. The bike makes the journey.

“What I should have done was stick with the first reason I gave and discussed it with her. Instead I allowed her to dominate the proceedings and fire questions at me. She simply waited until there was one reason that she knew she could disprove, and went off and did it.”

Such failed negotiations happen all the time, not only within families but, more worryingly, in workplaces and boardrooms around the world. And experts believe that ineffective negotiation ends up costing UK and international business a huge amount of money every year.

The main problem is that the vast majority of us think we are skilled negotiators – when that is far from the reality.

Huthwaite, which in 2014 celebrated 40 years of helping the workforces and leaders of blue chip multi-nationals achieve better sales, negotiation and communication results, recently quizzed 1,300 business people in 52 countries about how people negotiate – and it revealed 56 per cent had to admit they were unsuccessful negotiators. The main failings? The majority admitted they didn’t mention their feelings in negotiations. Using emotion is proven to be a tactic of negotiation success, says Tony.

In addition, many people go into a negotiation feeling less powerful than the other side, so as a result, their negotiations are less successful than they should be. Others simply do not ask enough questions.

“Negotiation is a very valuable skill. Some don’t have it at all, even though they think they do. And others are naturals – though even they could learn to do it better,” says Tony.

Why some have it in spades and some don’t seems more down to upbringing than intelligence. The cleverest of the clever can be rubbish at it, while those who grew up having to negotiate for the things they wanted in life will probably be better at it. Why is it such an important skill to master? Because everything in life – and business – involves it. “Whether you are selling, buying, account managing or simply trying to get through a day’s work with your colleagues – you are almost certain to spend some time negotiating. And without the skill to do it well, even the best-looking deal can quickly turn into a bad bargain,” says Huthwaite.

Selling too cheaply, paying too much, that contract that obliges you to make deliveries you can barely meet because you caved in to get the deal done – all are examples of poor negotiational skills.

Learn how to do it successfully and it could change your world, increase your chances of success, boost sales, save costs and cement relationships with strategic partners, Huthwaite preaches.

It knows what it’s talking about. The company tucked away in a Georgian manor house in the tiny village of Hoober, near Wentworth, has come to be viewed as a leader in sales, negotiation and behaviour change transformation. Its success is down to painstaking research of how the most successful negotiators behave, identifying patterns and distilling them into a training programme.

Its clients include major blue chip companies and household names from every sector – IBM has been on Huthwaite’s books continuously for 34 years. And the company claims its courses have helped clients around the world make gains and savings that run into millions.

It was founded in 1974 by Sheffield University research psychologist Neil Rackham and researchers Linda Marsh and Simon Bailey. They set out to discover what verbal behaviours were most commonly used by people with the greatest degree of success when selling, negotiating and communicating – compared with people who were only average performers.

In the early 1970s, companies such as BOAC, Kodak and Xerox asked them to share the learning with their sales teams and the company launched in 1974, initially at Huthwaite Hall in Thurgoland.

It relocated to its current address in Wentworth in 1989 and Neil Rackham is now recognised as ‘The Professor of Professional Selling’. Three of his books have been on the New York Times best-seller list and his works have been translated into over 50 languages. He retired from the company some years ago. Tony, an employee of 25 years, is now at the helm.