How Skilled Negotiators Achieve More for Less in Challenging Times


Negotiation techniques that produce quick wins.

In a recent article published in Health Business, my brilliant friend Ali Morris, former Business Director for Healthcare at Huthwaite International, discusses achieving more for less in today’s NHS. (National Health Service in UK)

Creating new approaches are essential in helping to meet the challenge of achieving more for less in today’s NHS. Some initiatives are major changes and are required at an organisational level. However, there are also quick wins to be had for those charged with finding savings.

In the article Ali outlines and considers a number of things:

Scenarios typical of the situations NHS professionals find themselves in when negotiating, and the aftermath of such events where negotiators come away from the negotiations feeling unsatisfied and unclear – creating a sense of ambiguity and misunderstanding.

How personal skill in applying effective negotiation techniques can help both non-clinical and clinical stakeholders to manage the pressure on costs and other resources.

The lack of opportunities given to those involved in the negotiation process to develop their skills.

Negotiation techniques used by skilled negotiators
Ali goes on to outline the key behaviours and negotiation techniques which Huthwaite research has identified as being used by skilled negotiators. These are:

Preparation and planning
Verbal behavioural skills. For example:
Giving feelings
Testing understanding and summarising

It’s a delightful read. Ali shares several counter intuitive insights and findings from our rigorous ongoing verbal behavioural research

Now enjoy the article by Ali:


Achieving more with less

By Ali Morris

In a recent Health Business article, Nick Gerrard discussed the Project Spotlight initiative undertaken at Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust.

The use of innovative sourcing and procurement strategies not only achieved impressive savings but also led to a transformation in the role of procurement – now a business-focussed function contributing to improved patient care and enhanced level of service.

These creative new approaches are essential in meeting the challenge of achieving more for less in today’s NHS. Some initiatives are major changes and are required at an organisational level. However, there are also quick wins to be had for those charged with finding savings – by helping individuals and teams to use their own skills to maximum effect. In this article Ali Morris, Business Director for Healthcare at Huthwaite International considers how the often overlooked subject of personal skill in negotiation can help both non-clinical and clinical stakeholders to manage the pressure on costs and other resources.

Picture the scene: after weeks of preparation, it is now time to negotiate an important contract – one that will make a big difference not only to the performance of the organisation or department, but to the morale and confidence of all those involved. Somehow though, things don’t quite go to plan. There’s too much dancing around before the key issues are discussed, while you and your colleagues find yourselves saying things you hadn’t intended to say. But through the awkward silences and power play, a deal of sorts is agreed.

Leaving the room you wonder just how realistic the agreement is and know that a better outcome with greater savings could probably have been achieved. Days later, further contact with the other party reveals several misunderstandings, creating more work and uncertainty.

This scenario is not untypical. In our work with NHS teams, and in other organisations and industries, we are frequently told that people involved in bidding for and negotiating major agreements have received scant opportunity to develop their skills. Yet they are expected to win business or shape agreements that will have a lasting impact on their organisation.

Received wisdom about how to behave before and during negotiations can also have a detrimental effect on the outcome. When Huthwaite looked at the behaviours of skilled negotiators our research revealed some surprising results.

Preparation and Planning
It’s easy to confuse preparation and planning. Average negotiators spend time preparing data and gathering information but fail to plan how best to use it. Skilled negotiators prepare well but then spend more time planning. They explore a wider range of possible issues and trades, identify their levers and how to use them, and know the real cost of any concessions they might make.

Verbal Behavioural Skills
Our research shows that the behavioural profile of skilled negotiators is a far cry from the traditional narrow-eyed, poker-faced silent character, or the table-thumping individual issuing ultimatums. Successful negotiators create a co-operative, collaborative climate wherever possible, using questioning skills and open language. The skilled negotiator has a wide portfolio of verbal skill, not only using certain behaviours to great effect but, importantly, avoiding others.

For example:
Giving feelings: Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, successful negotiators express their feelings more often than unsuccessful ones. E.g. “I’m delighted we’ve made progress on this issue” or “I’m disappointed that you view this as unimportant”.

Irritators: Telling the other party “this is a good deal for you” or “I’m being very generous here” has the potential to irritate and annoy, and can damage the climate of the meeting. Skilled negotiators are not immune, and use these approximately twice per hour. Unsuccessful negotiators however averaged 10.8 times per hour.

Counterproposals: Responding to the other party’s proposal with an immediate counterproposal can be damaging to the negotiation. It sends the message that the initial proposal has been ignored. Skilled negotiators spend much more time listening, seeking information and understanding the other side’s position, and in doing so make less than half the number of counterproposals made by their unskilled counterparts.

Testing understanding and summarising: A key measure of successful negotiations is how implementable the agreement is and that often depends on the amount of clarity achieved during the discussions. Verbal behaviours that check understanding throughout, and clarify agreements through effective summarising, are essential in creating a workable agreement.

All these behaviours are just a part of the excellent negotiator’s skill set. Combined with robust preparation and planning, effective negotiators need to have the full range of behaviours in their repertoire together with the flexibility to use each as appropriate to the situation.

Achieving more for less in the NHS is here to stay and ambitious new initiatives undoubtedly have a key role to play in shaping the future of the Service. In addition, building the confidence and skill of those who have responsibility to negotiate can provide a relatively quick way of securing major savings whilst achieving the best outcomes for the organisation and most importantly, the patients and service users.


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