Buying a new car, solidifying a sales contract or pitching yourself for a job promotion can all involve entering into negotiations. Fortunately, the skill of negotiation can be learned and improved upon. One way to keep improving is to evaluate how you performed in your last negotiation. Analyzing it as a success or failure can help you prepare for the next one. But, how can you evaluate whether or not a negotiation was successful?
As Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business professor Donald Conlon, Ph.D., said during a lecture on evaluating success in negotiations, “people think rather myopically” about negotiations. “They think rather narrowly about what it means to be successful and, in fact, there are a lot of different ways to think about success in negotiation.”
Rather than judging negotiating success through a narrow lens of just one or two possible outcomes, it’s important to broaden the evaluation to see just how many positive results were achieved. Here are some criteria points from Dr. Conlon to judge the outcome of your negotiations.
Criteria to Evaluate Negotiation Success
- All Issues in the Dispute Were Settled: People often think that if there were four issues on the negotiating table, and all four were settled, then they have achieved success. That’s not necessarily accurate. It’s important to distinguish between settling all issues and something that’s more difficult to achieve – a mutually beneficial settlement.
- All Issues Were Settled to the Mutual Benefit of Everyone: Another way to think about success in negotiation is to examine if all issues were settled to the mutual benefit of all, which is not as easy to achieve. Does everyone feel good about the way things were settled? If so, it was a success.
- The Underlying Core Conflict Was Resolved: Long-running disputes can fester and create a variety of symptoms. Often, the symptoms of a dispute are settled without the underlying core conflict being resolved. Unless the core conflict is negotiated, it will flare up again.
- The Parties Learned to Communicate Better With Each Other: One way to evaluate success in negotiation is whether any learning has taken place. For example, a negotiation can be considered successful if both sides learned to communicate more clearly or become better at resolving conflicts. Another measure is if the two sides can avoid future mediation.
- The Number of Unresolved Issues Was Reduced: Even if you don’t come to an agreement on every topic up for negotiation, if the number of issues left unresolved is reduced, it can be considered progress. Solving five out of seven issues is a big gain.
- The Distance Between the Parties’ Positions Was Narrowed: Perhaps a full agreement between the parties was not achieved through negotiation but the two sides are no longer as far apart in their positions. Narrowing that gap counts as real progress, especially on key issues.
- The Parties Gained Important or Valued Resources: Often, success is defined as “getting something back,” Dr. Conlon said. If you were able to recover an important resource that had been taken away or gained a resource you felt you deserved, you can consider it a successful negotiation.
Weighing and Measuring Success in Negotiations
While we’ve listed some criteria to consider when thinking about success in negotiations, there can be many more. Also, negotiations frequently meet more than one of these measurements. The idea behind this list is to expand your focus; to help you see the different possible outcomes of negotiating in a broad way.
There are also a number of negotiation factors that can affect these criteria – and therefore, your success in negotiations. There are other parts of negotiations to explore, such as using persuasion and some techniques that work when trying to move someone toward your position or viewpoint.