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The Art of Negotiation: Three tips

Meredith Mahon Morris November 30, 2011

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The following post was written by Lesley Baker, a longtime church staffer who has joined ACS Technologies as an implementation specialist. We’re excited to share her insight! If you like what you see here, be sure to check out the previous post by Lesley Baker, “Data Cleanup Best Practices.”

Lesley BakerHave you ever witnessed a child having a temper tantrum? It’s not a pleasant sight. Loud screaming, a river of tears. One of the first things we learn as children is that we don’t get our way all the time. Maybe once in a while, but that’s a rarity unless you’re spoiled.  Parents are usually the ones who teach us our first lesson in negotiation.

As adults we still throw the occasional temper tantrum, especially living in the Western, microwave society that we do. We want what we want when we want it and all of what we asked for. But that’s not what God’s word teaches us; we don’t get what we want when we want it.

This way of thinking all too often spills over into other areas of our life, including the workplace. This becomes especially difficult when it is evident in the church staff environment.  One challenge some staff face is negotiating with different levels of staff. One negotiation that’s especially difficult: being able to negotiate or say “no” to a pastor or director.

There seems to be this stigma that you shouldn’t deny a request by a pastor or director. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic. Remember the verse that says God is no respecter of persons? The same is true for us. We must treat ALL people with the same level of respect, kindness and love. No exceptions. You still have the ability to respect a spiritual authority and say no, but perhaps it’s a matter of learning a new way of saying no. That’s where negotiation comes into play.

While there are plenty of times we can say yes to staff requests, there are an equal amount of times when must say no to requests. But in saying no, we can take a tip from the business world and learn how to negotiate. Here are three tips to help you learn the art of negotiation in the church office:

1. Learn to say no without saying “no.”

No one likes to be told “no.”  The word is inherently negative. Be conscious of how you use the word no. Find other ways to say no. Example: “I don’t know if that idea will work, but here’s what I think will.” “I think it’s better if we try a different approach. What about …” See how both avoid saying no specifically? Does this mean you remove the word no from your vocabulary completely? Not necessarily, but it does mean we should find alternative ways to say no without saying no.

2. Think about a viable substitute or alternative.

When learning to say no without saying “no,” start by considering if there is an alternative you can offer. Notice that in both examples given above, we not only said no, but were proactive in offering explanation and alternatives? You may need to take some time and put some thought into your response. If you need to, start with, “Let me look into that and get back with you.” Then, as quickly as you can, research an alternative. If you have someone you trust, you may want to ask for advice, but be careful not to suggest that you don’t like the original idea – you certainly don’t want it getting back to the pastor or director that you were badmouthing their idea.

3. Delivery is everything.

Half the battle in the church office is how we speak to one another. Ever notice how we speak differently with family compared to the way we speak to others outside the home? We need to use the same pleasantries with our work family and home family as we do when speaking with church congregants or strangers. When you have to negotiate with a fellow staff member, or say no, your delivery is everything. Check your tone, your body language and your facial expressions. Be mindful that delivery is everything.

The art of negotiating takes time to master, but every good negotiator must start somewhere. Challenge yourself to apply these tips. Challenge yourself to grow and challenge those around you in this area as well. Be the catalyst for change, pray and ask God for his help in this area. You can do it!

Tell us: What’s your favorite tactic in the art of negotiation? Tell us in a comment!

  • Kira Wesley

    This is an excellent article. I agree wholeheartedly with Lesley’s insight and advice. This is a difficult topic to discuss in the church amongst your fellow staff or church members but I may just email this article to some people. (wink wink)
    I will also take Lesley up on the challenge of incorporating these skill in my communication resume.

  • Eleanor Pierce

    Thanks for the feedback Kira!

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