Procurement consulting

I Hate to Negotiate: Confessions of a Procurement Professional

My personality type is INFP. I’m the team player, the quiet and supportive one. The feeler. So it’s only natural to plunk me down at a negotiation table to go all “rabid raccoon” against my overpriced potential supplier, right? Not so much.

Throughout my entire career, I have approached the possibility of hard negotiation with a acrid mixture of angst and loathing, this being a business activity that is about as far from my natural personality type as a I could possibly roam. OK, so maybe not as far as “NASA spin-training tester,” but still a fairly long distance to stray. I don’t like conflict. I like to create a situation where everyone is happy, to conceptualize, brainstorm and build ideas. I’m not a Type A, a desk pounder or zealous haggler.

Believe it or not, this personal profile is exactly what has made me successful as a negotiator, when it comes right down to it. Why? Misrepresentation. That bravado-laden desk-banging image of the procurement professional turns out to be exactly what we in the function have been trying to debunk for years now. In my space of strategic procurement management, the meek INFP can outmaneuver the most hard-ass negotiator out there, using three tactics that business owners and leaders of all personality types can embrace:

  1. Listen

In contracting, in deal making, and yes, even in price negotiation, both parties have needs and wants. If we close our ears to these gems of info and merely drive on with our own personal agendas, we’ll only serve to talk over each other, saying the same things but progressively louder, like my grandma watching Steeler football. But if we hush up and listen up, all of a sudden we understand how to get what we need by understanding what the other party needs, and we learn how to marry together the two. Call it an aha, call it a lever, call it a loophole–it’s the chord that brings together both parties into sweet harmony.

2. Feel the Pain

A negotiation sticking point is not a personal assault on the other party, some “See, I told you I’d getcha!” opportunity involving maniacal laughter and mustache twisting. It’s merely a pain point, and like any source of pain, it has a root cause. Find it, even if that takes some doing. Then don’t just bandage it. For pity’s sake don’t poke at it. Heal it. You heard me. Work with your client or supplier, lean across the table and figure it out. Make it easier for your negotiation partner. Because guess what happens then? They have the peace and clarity to focus on getting the job done (not to mention an extra dose of goodwill), you’re keeping yourself out of harm’s way, and you both arrive at a pain-free agreement! Now that’s novel.

3. Innovate

I seriously doubt that I will ever launch one of these numbered lists on the topic of procurement without mentioning eSourcing. This is the great-granddaddy of objective negotiation methodologies–utilizing live, real market competition, unsullied by offline discussion, to decide the question of price. Suppliers are empowered to be as competitive as they feel they can be in response to the real-time market activity of the sourcing event. And so long as the client follows the fair-gameplay guidelines of the reverse auction program (no side negotiating, weigh price adequately against all other business needs in scoring suppliers, etc.) this tool can be a true negotiation powerhouse, even for the nicest nice guys out there, not to mention an avenue for seriously shortening your process time.

Take heart, bleeding hearts! With good partnering and problem solving skills and a leg up from modern technology, negotiation can become almost as pleasant as high tea in a summer rose garden. I’m not saying you’ll avoid all of those dicey little situations of high-intensity, but they fall far into the background, colored over in bright strokes by a set of approaches that makes everyone feel heard, helped and whole. And that’s a good day at the office, indeed.

–The Will Daniel “Chief Bloggist”

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