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Let’s Talk

Let’s Talk

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Let’s Talk

270 pages
3 heures
Jul 1, 2016



Negotiation & Communication at the Workplace

A must-have guide for every workplace

LET’S TALK is an immensely valuable guide for honing skills in students and professionals to better prepare them for the business world. Using a unique approach that combines case studies and storytelling, this book will help young executives cope with difficult people and situations in their new work environment, and teach them to better appreciate their work culture and colleagues. The techniques presented here derive from the author’s own work experiences in India. This second edition features a brand new chapter on the true meaning of mentoring and the importance of mentors in any organization.

Let’s Talk offers:
• Effective communication and negotiation techniques for success in every workplace situation
• Vital lessons in people skills for a positive work experience
• Application of international etiquette in the Indian corporate scenario

MUKTA MAHAJANI is a lawyer with degrees from India, UK and USA and training in negotiation from Harvard Law School. Her research has been published by the World Bank Group, where she has been a guest speaker and consults as needed. Having worked in the corporate sector in India, she currently serves on three expert committees with the Indian Merchants’ Chamber. She is a member of Lincoln’s Inn, London and the Bar Association of Maharashtra and Goa. Mukta can be reached at mukta.adr@gmail.com
Jul 1, 2016

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Let’s Talk - Mahajani



The young executive never dreams that sometimes just completing a project or a job can be difficult or demanding. The executive is caught in a web of conflicting communications, responsibilities and expectations from supervisors, peers and customers. Hence, the need to master the art of workplace conversations and negotiation techniques along with complementary self-analyses can never be overestimated.

Let's Talk: Negotiation and Communication at the Workplace examines and attempts to resolve the confusion and dilemma that is faced by many middle-management employees, specifically young executives working in small and medium enterprises or companies in India, who face issues due to the lack of training in dealing with tense conversations that turn into negotiations at work. It is critical to maintain good relationships at the workplace and balance all the views that form a project discussion and final decision.

The objective of this book is to give young executives in I ndia guidelines to deal with simple, internal office conversations- turned-negotiations and important communication skills for casual but important dialogue with external workplace audiences.

A lack of negotiation and communication skills and the resultant problematic scenarios are presented through professional situations encountered by four young executives, the stars of this book, Ankita, Ketan, Ram and Vidya, who during the course of their respective jobs in the business world, where neither concrete negotiation techniques nor concrete communication has been introduced properly, face difficulties in getting through to colleagues and superiors in the office and to external audiences. Communications skills are discussed briefly in later chapters in tandem with negotiation techniques discussed in depth in early chapters of this book.

The need for Let's Talk

Negotiation techniques cannot be ignored as they are a part of everyday business discussions. More and more people today train in the art of general negotiation skills. In the western world, proven negotiation techniques are taught in most universities and such courses are both popular and populated.

Negotiation and communication techniques and resultant skills may be considered to be interlinked. However, in this book communication and negotiation are treated as two separate subjects, in parallel, because communication techniques and resultant skills are presented here not to enhance negotiation but as skills necessary to work with the dynamics and interplay between different people on a day-to-day basis. The concept of interlinked negotiation and communication skills has not been developed in detail as this book has its origins in self-analyses and 'soft skills' rather than hard-core negotiation, the latter being that under which communication forms a big part.

By definition, negotiation is a discussion between two or more people aimed at facilitating an agreement and communication is the successful transfer of information from one person (or a group of people) to the intended recipient (or recipients).

Negotiation skills are integral to workplace scenarios for two reasons:

Negotiation skills help the young executive cope with a suddenly difficult environment. This means that when a conversation between two people or groups on a particular issue takes a difficult turn these techniques give rise to 'diplomacy', which reduces tension or manages to bring about an agreement.

Negotiation skills are invaluable for self-learning. Parents, extended family, friends and school and college guidance counsellors and mentors provide support to the young man or woman as he or she grows into adulthood. However, what happens when the youngster becomes an executive in a firstjob? Who then teaches him or her to encourage agreeableness?

More often than not, he or she gets an appointment letter, a congratulatory handshake from the new boss and a celebratory dinner with friends and family. But what about the coping skills in this rite of passage from a carefree childhood to an adulthood filled with responsibilities? Society forgets about this and assumes that the individual automatically has all the skills necessary to do his or her best in a new job.

Many people find it difficult to understand that negotiation is a learnt skill, and there are proven methods to get a positive answer to a request or to reach a positive agreement without having to portray oneself as very good or very bad.

Communication too is a learnt skill; it is not magically perfected and needs to be rehearsed. In rare cases, communication skills are picked up on the way by highly intuitive individuals.

Communication skills too, where separate from negotiation, are integral to workplace scenarios (though generally outside a planned formal setting) for two reasons:

Communication skills help manage day-to-day conversations that require tact and quick thinking.

Communication skills help win a seemingly harmless dialogue with people who believe that all's fair in love and war.

Thus, learning negotiation and communication techniques through a combination of reading and self-analyses will help smoothen the path for the young executive.

Let's Talk issues

Negotiation and communication techniques are needed to deal with the following problems, as described in the chapters ahead:

A lack of knowledge of negotiation techniques causes more mayhem than necessary as, often, young executives do not have clarity, terms of reference when things go wrong or clearly defined responsibilities to help them deal with issues at work. All they are expected to do is to get the job done.

Passivity never yields good results and letting a problem lie does not make it go away. Employees have to learn to manage novel situations using clear and effective communication with superiors, clients and co-workers while maintaining their position and goodwill in the company.

A lack of negotiation skills, in the context of intra- department two-people discussions, causes employees to face difficulties either in completing assigned projects while working with superiors or in relating to co-workers and resolving day-to-day matters while working with colleagues.

A lack of negotiation skills, in the context of intra- department or inter-department multiple-party discussions, causes employees to engage in unsuccessful dialogue with internal clients such as other department heads and senior colleagues. Employees are unable to finish a project owing to non-cooperation from co-workers in different departments because of different work priorities and personalities.

A lack of communications skills, while trying to resolve individual situations when dealing with external audiences, causes young executives to run the risk of (a) losing time and money, being unable to take or delay an informed business decision because of modern and varied choices available for resolving problems; and (b) losing trust and value, being unable to consult (or preempt a consultation with) superiors on new solutions without compromising their position.

Highlights of Let's Talk

Specifically, 4 important negotiation techniques and 16 relevant negotiation sub-techniques as also 4 general communication techniques and 16 relevant communication sub-techniques are presented as examples of learning and application.

Effective application of negotiation techniques and self-analyses to successfully deal with complex situations arising from stressful conversations-turned- negotiations with internal workplace audiences is described.

Methods of strengthening communication skills to stay on top of the job are presented.

Concepts/phrases/terms highlighted in inverted commas carry significant importance in relation to the concerned chapter.

The book gradually reaches its conclusion as it revisits Ankita, Ketan, Ram and Vidya's situations in the light of learnt negotiation techniques and new communication skills leading to smoother dialogues internally and communications externally. Thus, Let's Talk is offered as an invaluable guide for not only first-time young executives, now in important managerial positions, but also those seeking to master the art of workplace conversations and negotiations through reading and self-analyses.


Navigating small and medium enterprise systems in India:

Middle-management issues

The need for negotiation techniques

All young executives, especially those in new jobs or new managerial positions, generally want to win. They want the best deal for their company, the best marketing plan they have created to be chosen, the best designer to sign up with their enterprise, the best terms during a merger or the best possible price for a building their company is constructing. Moreover, they hope this success will showcase their talent and responsibility and help them grow quickly within the organization, being given greater responsibilities as they grow.

Even when individuals first join a small or medium enterprise, family-owned or otherwise, they are keen to put their best foot forward and showcase their talents from their first job interview to their first day at work. Potential employers too, while stating the broad job description, show a positive attitude and a confidence that a young executive will fulfil his or her given role well.

Like it or not, young executives soon start negotiating with the enterprise or with the boss with a request or with co-workers while discussing an issue. They do their best to get what they want, that is, what they perceive as best for themselves or their workplace. In the process, they may like the people, their path may be smooth and easy-going or they may find it tense.

Each party has a position and a viewpoint on the basis of which a stance is taken unknowingly by both the boss and the employee. Although it is always good to say what one means and spell out requirements clearly, the end result may not always be what was hoped for and young executives may be left wondering what happened. They may even be aggrieved and believe they are being treated unfairly, thus sowing the seeds of discord early on.

As work progresses, sooner than later young executives get to meet and interact with colleagues from other departments. They need to find ways to work together to complete a project or share information with each other or work round a presentation. This may not be easy, as all young executives will be working at the same middle-management level with different bosses, reporting requirements, priorities and attitudes. It goes without saying that each would want to be the unspoken leader of his or her team and highlight his or her department or region's work. Similar situations may occur when several people in the same department work with each other.

Often, young executives believe they are fighting hard to negotiate a certain point, yet fail to meet the desired goal. This is because they make varied representations of their point, change their positions, and even offer and reject ideas by unconsciously taking a stance, thereby changing the very nature of the discussion.

Groups in discussion may wonder why an inter-department meeting did not go well and superiors had to intervene. Some young executives may have altercations with seniors and wonder why this happened. Others may find they are fighting for a mediocre idea because they do not have a better one. Even others may be unable to be receptive to new environments. And there will always be someone who knows what to say but not how to say it!

Thus, sometimes, simple communication is not enough. Structure and strategy as learnt negotiation techniques are necessary for successful dialogue.

Role, responsibilities and characteristics of middle management:

Dealing with unclear expectations and stress

Young middle-management executives in various departments have responsibilities such as extending and renewing contracts, negotiating new ones, advertising, marketing and overseeing projects for the company. However, they do not have the same privileges as senior-management executives nor can they hide behind the inexperience of junior-management executives. In India, often job roles are clear but not precise. Definite expectations are not commonly clarified, and in situations of confusion in the middle of an assignment, discussion or a sudden power conflict, there is no ready written guide or appointed person to turn to. The lack of communication skills does not help deal with such situations either.

There are three common middle-management characteristics:

Middle-management executives are neither in senior nor in very junior positions, thus constantly having to juggle between authority and inexperience.

Although middle-management executives are empowered to make and execute important decisions, their powers are often narrow or restricted to dealing with less risky issues. This means that they cannot quickly make or execute decisions that are out of the box.

While middle-management executives have broad powers to complete deals, they cannot vary these deals too much from conventional agreement clauses and have to keep in mind their employer's financial budgets. This means that while they can ordinarily implement existing strategies, they do not necessarily have the authority to formulate these. For example, if there is a price variant in the final transaction due to either an unknown or new element or new and modern agreement clause options, middle-management executives are no longer as empowered to go ahead with the deal. This is mainly because they are not yet trained to deal with tough people.

These difficult people form a huge part of the young executive's day-to-day dealings.

In any organization there is always that one person who is difficult to understand and therefore work with.

It is not possible for workers at any level to entirely separate people from the work because they are a huge part of that work. As explained in the three points above, middle-management employees neither have the flexibility to distance themselves from such people by pleading inexperience to their boss nor are in a position to advise such people to change their stance as successfully as a senior employee. This means they have difficult people and difficult issues to deal with. Young executives may also find situations uncomfortable because of their personality traits.

What can employees do when they are caught in a bind? Ignoring a problem is like ignoring a responsibility and letting down superiors. Often, the solution lies in learning a new skill or mastering a new tool, the decision for which does not rest with the employee-the young executive.

Middle-management needs for novel communication and negotiation techniques

No proper introduction exists and no single authority has spearheaded the negotiation movement in India as yet. New employees come and go in all organizations. Better- qualified employees get headhunted into an enterprise. These employees bring in new techniques and work styles. As explained, this can lead to a lot of confusion leaving employees to fend for themselves when in vulnerable positions.

Vulnerability occurs because young executives are unable to handle situations as well as new and better-qualified individuals in the same or similar positions.

Several medium business federations, as also people in general, have benefitted from learning basic negotiation techniques and found successful ways of working with difficult people, issues and self-discomforts within a dispute, thereby not wasting too much time or money and arriving at good and innovative solutions. Such enterprises and individuals have also benefitted from the guidance of negotiation experts in learning new ways of communicating when dealing with difficult people, issues or self-discomforts, thus finding a way out of tough situations with minimum fuss.


4 techniques and 16 sub-techniques

When a company is ill-equipped to teach new skills to help deal with (a) difficult people per se, (b) difficult issues and (c) personality-driven discomforts (uncomfortable situations), young executives may refer to 4 negotiation techniques and 16 negotiation sub-techniques presented here.

When senior-management executives are faced with a difficult issue, they commonly tend to leave it to hapless young middle-management executives to deal with. Even when senior-management executives approach senior business consultants to resolve issues of a young executive, and which directly affect the boss, they advise clients according to their own impressions and experiences.

However, more often than not, because the experts are not trained in negotiation techniques in Indian schools they may not be aware that such techniques would be the correct way to resolve an issue, deal with a difficult person or adjust to a situation caused by personality-driven discomforts. It is also not recognized that people need more care than the problem, and because of inadequate advice young executives appear or become unnecessarily difficult. Sometimes, the techniques recommended by experts too are not appropriate.

Rare is a person who is a born negotiator and who realizes that difficult people will always be part, small or large, of a project or problem.

Thus, presented here are four important techniques for young middle-management executives.

Technique 1: Keep in check impressions of people involved in discussions-turned-negotiations when dealing with those people

Keeping in check impressions of people makes Technique 1 a sure-fire way of getting along with people even when they are a problem, especially because inexperienced young executives may not be able to easily disassociate the person from the problem. Instead, it is important to concentrate on the work that needs to get done.

Technique 2: Find project/work parameters and goals that everyone can agree on

Many middle-management employees are ill- equipped in dealing with difficult people on their own. Young executives also believe that they have their own identity or, in the case of a joint project, a position or a point or a reputation to protect. This leads to considering Technique 2.

Instead of resisting a change of strategy as not being in line with their own values or those of the company, and rejecting new ideas and concepts for fear of financial loss or loss of personal reputation, young executives can easily overcome situations by finding project/work parameters and goals that everyone can agree on. This will also prevent them from appearing diffident or difficult.

Technique 3: Focus on project issues and prevalent logic, not on personal successes and qualifications or history, to find a way forward in a project

Sometimes, young executives find it difficult to understand and adjust to a work culture and may find themselves in a losing situation. So they appear diffident simply because they are afraid to hold discussions in that environment. This makes it even more important to focus on finding a way forward in a project without getting personal. Technique 3 reminds young executives to focus on project issues and prevalent logic to help resolve deadlocks instead of on personal successes and qualifications or prior achievements for mere one-upmanship.

Technique 4: Always have a plan B and a worst-case first alternative ready while promoting a difficult deal

At times, young executives are so overconfident that they fail because they overlook simple strategies. Organizations choose to avoid teaching potentially new techniques unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. Management, however, sometimes forgets that their people are sooner or later faced with situations when they have to hit the ground running and deal with smarter employees, demanding external vendors and contractors as well as situations requiring new learning. Technique 4 comes in handy here by emphasizing the need to have ready an alternative plan-a plan B-and a worst-case first alternative while negotiating a difficult deal.

The need for communication and self-awareness

Some employees are ill-equipped at communicating sensitive issues and grey areas as the concept of increasing self- awareness on the job is lacking. In an intra-department or inter-department work situation in a company, when young executives face uncertainty, it is possible to resolve the issue internally. This means that while the employee may face any resultant negativity, the enterprise itself does not lose face. Of course, as just said, this risks negative results, increasing conflict and, perhaps, hostility at

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