Negotiation Skills

Sounds negotiation skills are necessary in all aspects of refugee legal aid work. Advocacy with institutions requires diplomacy, tact and establishment of influence. Accompanying refugees to mediate disputes with employers or service-providers requires persuasion. Collaborative processes with other NGOs, government institutions and civil society may require intense negotiations involving conflicting priorities, hidden interests and intense frustrations. Managing staff and volunteers requires negotiation on a daily basis. Refugee response may take place in a context where the UN cluster system is in place, necessitating collaboration in such pre-determined spaces where negotiation takes on a different character to bilateral relations with counterparts.

Negotiating skills should not just be developed among leadership staff, but at all levels of your organization. Running in-house negotiation skills trainings could form part of intake training for new colleagues, but could be refreshed with older staff and volunteers in participatory trainings at determined intervals.

Such trainings may include role-plays, self-study or problem-solving based on genuine issues arising in the context you work in.

Tips for negotiating

Key principles:

  • Separate the people from the problem: this helps to maintain healthy relations with others who may just be doing their job or are in some way bound to pursue a different approach to yours. Instead of ‘us’ against ‘them,’ change the dynamic into ‘all of us’ versus ‘the problem.’
  • Distinguish between interests and positions: What someone wants is their position, why they want it is their interest. Ask questions to find out the needs and reasons behind a position that you are presented with. This will help identify grounds for compromise.
  • Consider your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. The relative strength of each party’s best alternative determines the power balance in negotiations.
  • Establish early on your boundaries and limits.
  • Pursue fairness: this enables greater buy-in from all parties. Durability of arrangements is key to fairness.

Further advice:

  • Negotiation is a dialogue and the aim is understanding or compromise, intended to resolve a point of difference or achieve a desired outcome.
  • It is important to be aware of cross-cultural differences in negotiating styles: what is acceptable or normal in one context may be insulting or misunderstood in another. Research before entering into discussions.
  • Mutual trust can facilitate negotiations: establishing a personal rapport with your interlocutors is advised.
  • Research all aspects of a position or situation before entering into discussion.
  • Identify the decision-maker.
  • Prepare arguments and reasoning based on a variety of possible scenarios.
  • Demonstrate engaged listening and respond to your interlocutor’s concerns directly.
  • Clarify issues where misunderstanding may occur.
  • Identify any areas of common ground.
  • Maintain calm throughout negotiations.
  • Use silence for reflection.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Observe non-verbal clues with your interlocutor.
  • Differentiate between needs (important points on which no compromise can be sought) and interests (where there is potential to concede ground).
  • Propose a win-win outcome: list all potential benefits to the employer, official or colleague. It is important for both sides to feel they have gained something in the end.
  • Plan for alternative outcomes if agreement is not reached.
  • Maintain your walk-away power.
  • Establish written confirmation of the agreement reached and commitments agreed upon.
  • Express gratitude and appreciation at the outcome of negotiations.
  • Practice at every opportunity.

Further resources