How to become a better negotiator in L&D

We've always known power skills are important, but only recently have we begun to see how crucial they really are for L&Ds.

While engaging with L&D professionals from around the world, we observed a common characteristic in those who went from being viewed as order-takers to being viewed as consultants and strategic learning designers: the mastery of not just one, but two critical skill sets.

Firstly, they use advanced technical frameworks, from action mapping and performance consulting to insights from behavioral and neuroscience. But, and here’s the kicker, their real edge lies in something else—power skills. It's their ability to negotiate, pitch ideas convincingly, think critically and creatively, and show courage that sets them apart.

These power skills, we realized, are essential for L&D professionals to bring their technical expertise to life. Without them, even high-level technical knowledge can end up as a useless theory that makes no real-world impact.

That’s why we decided to partner with NextArrow, a boutique L&D firm that provides playful and practical training to organizations all over the world. Through workshops and articles curated specifically for Offbeat, NextArrow is giving us the tools to dig deeper into L&D power skills.

This article kicks off our co-authored series and explores the second power skill -  the application of negotiation in L&D.

Why negotiation is important in L&D

Elevating L&D's Role: By effectively negotiating, L&D professionals demonstrate their deep understanding of both the learning needs of employees and the strategic goals of the organization. This positions L&D as a crucial player in shaping the direction and success of the company.

Ensuring Alignment with Business Objectives: Through negotiation, L&D can ensure that learning initiatives are directly aligned with business strategies. This alignment is critical for L&D to be seen as a partner that contributes to achieving key business outcomes.

Facilitating Resource Acquisition: Strategic partners need the right resources to implement their strategies. Negotiation skills are vital for securing budget, technology, and support from other departments, enabling L&D to deliver high-impact learning programs.

Building Credibility and Trust: Successful negotiation involves listening, empathy, and finding mutually beneficial solutions. These skills help build credibility and trust with stakeholders, further establishing L&D's role as a strategic partner.

Promoting Innovation: As strategic partners, L&D professionals are in a position to propose innovative learning solutions that meet the organization's needs. Negotiation skills are key to gaining stakeholder buy-in for these innovative approaches.

Addressing and Overcoming Resistance: Change often meets resistance. Effective negotiation helps L&D professionals address concerns, overcome resistance, and move initiatives forward in a way that stakeholders can support.

When do L&Ds negotiate?

Negotiation is a skill we use almost every day in the L&D field. Here are some key areas where it comes into play:

Budgets: We negotiate the funds needed for various learning programs and resources.

Strategy Focus: We decide together with various stakeholders the focus of our strategy.

Delivery Timelines: We work out realistic schedules for creating and delivering learning experiences.

Learning Experience Design: We discuss and agree on the content, scope, and methods for learning programs with stakeholders.

Stakeholder Involvement: We ensure all relevant parties are engaged and their expectations are managed throughout the learning process.

Vendor Agreements: We set terms for services, costs, and delivery timelines with external suppliers.

Each of these scenarios requires a thoughtful negotiation strategy to ensure learning initiatives are effective, engaging, and aligned with organizational goals.

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Tips for a successful negotiation

A successful negotiation isn’t just about getting what you want. It’s making sure everyone walks away feeling good. We caught up with Roi Ben-Yehuda, CEO of NextArrow. Roi previously taught courses and seminars on negotiation and conflict management at Columbia University, Princeton University, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Before

Here are three things Roi suggests doing before a negotiation:

Establish a bargaining range: “A bargaining range is your goal, opening offer, and bottom line in a negotiation. Creating a bargaining range forces you to do your homework, helps you think strategically, keeps you disciplined, and signals when to walk away from a deal. Remember, as negotiation scholar Seth Freeman reminds us, the goal of negotiation is not just to reach a deal, but to reach a wise deal.”

Shift perspectives: “Before every negotiation, ask yourself: ‘Why would this person say yes to me? What would make this person say no to me?’ These questions have proven to be very useful in preparing for a negotiation – they force you to shift perspectives and enable you to imagine what the other person is thinking and feeling. This, in turn, allows you to foresee and address some challenges and come up with mutually beneficial solutions.”

Do a Pre-Mortem’: “In preparing for negotiations, it's common to focus on the reasons why you’ll succeed, overlooking reasons why you might not. This optimistic bias can leave you unprepared for challenges, forcing you to make hasty adjustments mid-negotiation, which is rarely effective. To counteract this, incorporating what psychologist Gary Klein refers to as a ‘pre-mortem’ in your preparation can be incredibly beneficial. Ask: “What led to the failure (Come up with 3 reasons)? What can I do to mitigate the failure from happening.”

During

Here are three things Roi suggests doing during a negotiation:

Employ the right frame: “The person you’re trying to reach a compromise with is your negotiating partner, not your opponent. Research shows that framing matters in negotiations. If you see the other person as your opponent, you’re more likely to act aggressively, using hardball tactics, manipulations, and threats to maximize your gains. Likewise, if you see the other person as a partner, you’re more likely to take an interest, ask questions, share information, and problem-solve in a mutually beneficial way. No matter if it’s a long-term working relationship, the happiness of a client, or the success of the team/ organization, keep your shared interest at the forefront.”

Show respect: “Showing respect through active listening and genuine curiosity is paramount. As Gary Noesner, former Chief of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit and current member of NextArrow’s Advisory Board, says, ‘It’s only when you attend to someone in a meaningful way [and] you demonstrate that you’re listening, that you earn credibility, trust, and influence.’”

Separate positions and interests“In negotiations, we often get stuck on positions (what people say they want) without exploring interests (why they want it). For example, when negotiating with a training vendor, a company may initially seek the lowest price. However, their broader interests could include additional services like customization, pre-post assessments, and one-on-one coaching. Meanwhile, the vendor may prioritize gaining a strong public testimonial in exchange for a discount. By addressing these deeper interests, both parties can move beyond simple price haggling to forge agreements that offer substantial value and foster a strategic partnership.”

After

Here’s what Roi suggests doing after a negotiation:

Host an imaginary press conference : “Ensure the offer addresses the key interests of all parties involved. It should be fair, and realistic, and it should consider the long-term implications for the relationship between the parties. For example, I always host an imaginary press conference in my head to ensure the deal is a good one for all the stakeholders involved.”

Cover your basics: “Document the agreement.  Share the document to make sure that all points are aligned on. Inform relevant stakeholders of the agreement. Carry out agreed actions. This last part is truly important as it determines your credibility for future interactions.”

Express gratitude: “People often forget this but, sending out a simple thank you note (or even video) can go a long way. Doing so is a way of ending the negotiation on a high note. It encourages reciprocation and frames the situation as a positive and collaborative experience.”

Traps L&Ds should avoid when negotiating

Knowing what to do before, during, and after a negotiation is all well and good. Knowing what not to do is just as important. Here are eight traps to avoid:

Dodging negotiation: Dodging negotiation is a common trap where individuals opt out of negotiating due to fear, discomfort, or the mistaken belief that their current situation can’t be improved through discussion. This approach can lead to missed opportunities for growth, development, and improved conditions or terms. Engaging in negotiation, even when it seems daunting, opens the door to potential benefits and advancements that would remain inaccessible without taking that step. By choosing to negotiate, you advocate for yourself, your team, or your project, potentially leading to better outcomes and fostering a culture of open communication and problem-solving.

Failing to prepare: Entering a negotiation without a clear understanding of your goals, the needs of the other party, and potential solutions can lead to suboptimal outcomes. Preparation is crucial for a successful negotiation. Instead, try using pre-mortems, preparing a bargaining range, and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to gain empathy. (See above!)

Shutting down or walking away: When facing resistance and push-back most people in that situation either shut down and walk away or dig in and get defensive. When stakeholders are pushing back, get curious instead of critical. Instead, have a few go-to questions you can ask: Can you walk me through your thinking on that? What led you to that conclusion? So that I understand where you are coming from, what does X mean to you? What would create a 10% improvement to this proposal?

Over-compromising: Giving in too easily or ceding too much in an attempt to reach an agreement can undermine the value you bring to the table. It's essential to find a balance that respects your needs and those of the other party.

Ignoring non-verbal cues: Communication isn't just about what is said. How it's said and body language play a significant role. Missing these cues can lead to misunderstandings or missed opportunities for connection.

Failing to listen: Active listening is a powerful tool in negotiation. Failing to listen to the other party's concerns, needs, and suggestions can prevent the discovery of mutually beneficial solutions.

Assuming a fixed pie: Viewing the negotiation as having a fixed outcome where one party's gain is the other's loss limits the potential for creative solutions that can expand the benefits for all involved.

Neglecting the relationship: Focusing solely on the transaction and neglecting the relationship can harm long-term collaboration and future negotiations.

How can L&Ds improve their negotiation skills?

After a negotiation, conduct an After-Action Review. Roi Ben-Yehuda recommends filling out a subjective value assessment to consider instrumental outcomes, process outcomes, relationship outcomes, and self outcomes. “Reflecting on ways of improving each of these crucial dimensions will aid in continuous improvement as a negotiator,” he says.

Negotiation is an art that, when mastered, can lead to significant advancements not just for the individual L&D professional, but for the organization as a whole. Through practice, reflection, and a bit of strategy, anyone can become an effective negotiator.

Lavinia Mehedintu has been designing learning experiences and career development programs for the past 9 years both in the corporate world and in higher education. As a Co-Founder and Learning Architect @Offbeat she’s applying adult learning principles so that learning & people professionals can connect, collaborate, and grow. She’s passionate about social learning, behavior change, and technology and constantly puts in the work to bring these three together to drive innovation in the learning & development space.

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