Magazine article Public Finance

How to Negotiate a Better Way Forward

Magazine article Public Finance

How to Negotiate a Better Way Forward

Article excerpt

Negotiating is a vital business skill for all public sector managers and increasingly so for finance professionals. But many end up acting as if they're haggling over a used car. Matt Copeland advises

All managers negotiate on a daily basis, whether it's over the best way to distribute the departmental budget or whose turn it is to buy lunch. If it involves other people, and pretty much everything does, it involves negotiation. But this is an area with a big skills gap.

When faced with a negotiation, managers have a tendency to go straight into "haggling and bartering' mode, approaching discussions in the same way they might go about buying a car. Both parties set out their positions at extreme and opposite ends of the scale, followed by the obligatory dance round the table and movement towards the middle, as each makes predictable concessions, before they end up just splitting the difference. Neither side is really happy with the result and a lot of time has been unnecessarily wasted.

For finance professionals, negotiation skills are becoming more important, given the central strategic role they now assume in the public sector. The economic drivers of revenue models and streams are all changing, with innovation an imperative, and novel situations and requests increasingly the norm. Finance professionals are at the heart of it all.

This is particularly true with the civil service reform agenda. Among other things, this calls for smaller central government, greater collaboration, more value for money and a focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

Finance professionals should be viewed as partners in enabling future growth and innovation, rather than just the risk-averse 'gatekeepers of the organisational jewels'. However, this means they first need to think, act, communicate and influence in that way. Here are ten tips for negotiating in a way that will leave all parties satisfied.


People will generally bring a set of preconceived notions to the negotiating table. For example, the other party might have heard rumours about your department or organisation or have a 'history' with your team. The key to getting a negotiation off to a good start is to find out what the other parties' prejudices and assumptions are first and then deal with them, before getting into the details of your argument. Acknowledge these assumptions, recognise them and deal with them explicitly.


Everyone has a preferred negotiating style - but your favourite method might not be the most appropriate if the other party has a radically different approach. Make sure you are aware of your own strengths and weaknesses and look out for the verbal and physical cues that will give you an insight into the other person's natural communication style. If you know what makes the other person tick, you can adapt your style appropriately to make sure that you have a productive dialogue with them - and that your message gets across, instead of falling on deaf ears.


Dig deep and find out what is really pushing the party you are negotiating with. You are dealing with a person, not a business, and all individuals have their own agenda. Make sure you are clear about what's behind the stance they are taking. You need to identify exactly what they want to gain from the process - what their 'interest' is rather than just their stated 'position'. …

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