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7 Negotiation Strategies CEOs Must Know

7 Negotiation Strategies CEOs Must Know

When you’re the CEO, nearly every business conversation you have is a negotiation. Employees, competitors, board members, customers — everyone wants something that you may or may not want to give, and vice-versa. These negotiation strategies can help you keep your cool, maintain focus, and reach the best agreements for your business.

1. Leverage EQ.

Think about the people who work for you, the competitors you’ll happily grab coffee with, your CEO coach, your friends, your family. What’s one thing they all have in common?

You like them! And they probably like you too.

More complex and detailed negotiation strategies will be more productive if, on the most basic and human level, both sides are friendly with each other. Ask yourself, am I a CEO whom other people want to do business with? Or do I need to brush up my EQ skills so that I can build better bridges between myself and key stakeholders?

2. Create trust.

Some CEOs approach negotiation strategies with the old “Sitting down at the poker table” metaphor. But showing at least some of your cards can go a long way toward gaining trust and reaching a successful outcome.

If the people you’re talking to can sense that you’re holding too much back, they’re going to bring apprehension and skepticism with them to the table. Try to establish some mutually beneficial objectives and be honest about potential roadblocks to a deal. Your openness will help your counterpart see that there’s a potentially good solution here for both sides.

3. Plan ahead.

Any important decision in business needs to fulfill a clear objective. That’s doubly true if you’re negotiating something BIG, like a merger or a stock options package that will land you a top COO. Use that BIG goal as your guiding light during the natural give-and-take that will start once you do sit down and negotiate.

4. Dig deeper.

Another limitation of the “poker table” analogy is that it frames negotiation strategies in terms of “winning” and “losing.” Your counterpart in a negotiation isn’t your enemy. He or she is a person who represents something that’s important to your company and your long-term vision of BIG.

Rather than focusing on “winning,” stay curious. Ask questions that move the discussion beyond numbers, beyond growth targets, beyond salary requirements. Get to the heart of what both you and your counterpart want to accomplish. Start your negotiations from a place of mutual understanding and it may be easier to find common ground to build a deal on.

5. Nurture relationships.

Your chances of closing a BIG deal or arriving at a suitable workplace compromise are a lot smaller if you’re just a face on a screen or if you’re cold-calling a ripe acquisition target.

It’s long past time to get back to your pre-COVID routine of huddling daily with staff, attending weekly leadership meetings, mixing with other leaders at conferences, and taking lunches with prospective talent. If you need to stay virtual to reach your decentralized workforce or conduct an interview, ramp up your communication rhythm and add some personal touches. Broaden your conversations beyond the business so that people understand what kind of leader you are and what kind of person you are. Follow these connections to opportunities and you’ll open negotiations from a friendlier and more trustworthy starting point.

6. Acknowledge limitations.

A tough negotiation might pull you out of your comfort zone as both sides drag each other towards the middle. It’s OK if you lose your footing … as long as you’re willing to admit it.

Don’t let your ego keep you from asking questions that will bring finer details into better focus. When you’re away from the negotiating table, do your homework and consult with your c-suite and CEO coach. If you don’t have the in-house expertise you need, work with a third-party consultant or create the new leadership position you’ll need to execute this negotiation strategy. Prepare both yourself and your company to grow into its next phase.

7. Control emotions.

The best negotiation strategies separate practical needs from emotional needs.

If you have to lock down a contract with a supplier today or risk customer wrath, that’s a practical need that you need to address quickly.

Emotional needs touch on the things you want, but not necessarily right now.

For example, you may want a big influx of cash so that you can expand your distribution network … but is this investor really the best fit for your company?

You may want to make an acquisition to broaden your in-house tech … but could this company’s weak culture affect the vibrant workplace you’ve spent decades building?

You may want to hire the hotshot marketing whiz all your competitors are fighting over … but will she put your team’s success ahead of her own?

Never let your emotional needs overwhelm the practical realities of your business. There will be another company to acquire, another talented person to hire, another path to your long-term goals. If the right solution isn’t at this table, stand up, shake hands, and walk away. You’ll head into your next negotiation with a clearer vision of where your needs and wants meet and a better strategy for Making BIG Happen.

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About Mark Moses

Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make BIG Happen. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.

Mark Moses

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 67.8% during their time as a client, nearly four times the U.S. average and a revenue CAGR of 25.5%, more than twice the U.S. average.

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