“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love” (Mahatma Gandhi).
When managed effectively, conflicts can be constructive by shaking up systems and structures. However, they can also be destructive by causing misunderstanding, distrust and violence, leading to legal and ethical issues. Conflicts cannot be eliminated, but their negative impact can be minimized through positive action and negotiation.
Soft Leadership and Negotiation
Negotiation is the process of two people or groups resolving their conflicts or issues and reaching an acceptable solution. The role of the negotiator is to build trust and confidence in the stakeholders to iron out their differences by bringing them to a common ground and achieve a win-win outcome.
To execute deals effectively and successfully, persuasive leadership and negotiation skills are essential. Negotiation skills are an integral part of soft leadership, because soft leadership involves the use of persuasion and negotiation with an intention to achieve a win-win outcome. Soft leaders adopt negotiation tools and techniques to persuade stakeholders. Unlike hard leaders, they don’t believe in using force or coercion. They believe in putting across their ideas and insights assertively. They are smart in the art of saying “no” firmly but politely.
Developing Soft Leadership Negotiation Skills
Before negotiating, seek background information about the other party to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Weigh the pros and cons. Achieving a win-win outcome depends on various pulls, pressures, permutations and combinations. At times, there may not be any light at the end of the tunnel. David G. Jones rightly remarked, “Be strong and continually aware. Manage your strength and that of others. When essential, engage on your terms. Be observant, adaptive, and subtle. Do not lose control. Act decisively. Conclude quickly. Don’t fight!”
Negotiation requires patience and perseverance. It takes time to resolve issues amicably. Negotiators should not be stressed and depressed when negotiations fail. Negotiating can be compared to trekking through a jungle. Trekkers have clarity about their goals but encounter innumerable challenges on the way. In a nutshell, to achieve a successful outcome, negotiators must see the big picture, understand realities, identify bottlenecks involved, and address them effectively through persuasion and collaboration. To become a successful negotiator, stress winning major battles to enable the small issues to fall into place in time.
Negotiation skills are learned skills. They can be developed by reading, experience and practice. It is essential for all leaders to understand and apply appropriate negotiation skills. Above all, negotiators must be good communicators and know how to persuade others.
Abraham Lincoln is an example of a soft leader who converted his political opponents into allies with his negotiation skills. He said, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend, and the best way to make someone a friend is to give them that accolade in your mind.” Here are some tools to convert your opponents into allies:
- Be proactive, not reactive.
- Demonstrate a positive attitude; view your opponents with a positive frame of mind.
- Avoid distractions that stand in the way of an effective negotiation.
- Avoid pre-conceived notions.
- If you are uncomfortable, ask for a postponement, or send someone else.
- Ensure that your mind fully focused.
- Keep the channels of communication open.
- Be cheerful and avoid talking negatively about the other party.
- Empathize with the other party.
- Strive for win-win.
Future Leaders Must Be Soft Leaders.
Successful leadership is about enabling, removing roadblocks and providing resources to achieve organizational goals and objectives. Soft leadership helps accomplish these objectives through persuasion, negotiation and a people-orientation.
This article has been adapted from my book “Soft Leadership: An Innovative Leadership Style to Resolve Conflicts Amicably through Soft Skills and Negotiation Skills to Achieve Global Stability, Peace and Prosperity.”