Leveraging Negotiating Skills in the IR Environment

​Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. Questions may be submitted to eAIR@airweb.org.

This month’s question is answered by Kristina M. Cragg, Associate Vice President of Institutional Research at Ashford University. Kristina also serves as an IPEDS Trainer. The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Members are invited to join the discussion by commenting below. 

KristinaCragg50.jpgDear Kristina: At times I find it frustrating that my colleagues in and out of IR don’t understand or share my concerns, goals, and approach. What suggestions do you have to work more collaboratively with colleagues across my institution?   

One possibility is leveraging your negotiation skills—we all have them to some degree. On the surface, this topic may not seem like it fits with institutional researchers – especially with professionals who value and practice integrity to extraordinary levels. One may think of negotiation as a negative word associated with the buying or selling of goods or services (i.e., car, home). However, I submit that negotiation is part of IR more than one would think – working with one or more people toward a goal.  

Institutional researchers can leverage key elements of negotiation as our roles expand into new territories of analysis, consultation, and institutional support. 

Each person has some degree of negotiation skills, and we exercise these skills when conflicts or disagreements arise. You may feel your negotiating skills come out when you first see signs of conflict, such as: 

  • Competition. Individuals involved may believe there is something to be gained or lost, and therefore, they need to push toward a specific outcome that is in disagreement with another outcome.
  • Wrong information. Individuals have the wrong information and are moving forward in a direction that will be in disagreement with another outcome.
  • The kitchen sink. Old and unresolved issues are brought up and thrown into the conversation as items to be solved – mixed in with the current issue or problem.

The goal is to begin negotiations before or at the onset of conflict in order to reduce the severity of the conflict, bring all parties to resolution as quickly as possible, and move to a more productive goal.

“Sounds good – so how do I do that?”

Talk in person. While it may not always be feasible, talking in person allows you to see each other’s body language and each person can react accordingly. It is much harder to do this via email or phone.

Schedule sufficient time. Trying to solve a problem in 15 spare minutes or in a hallway conversation will not yield the same quality result as having enough time to talk without rushing off to another meeting.

Listen first, talk much later. If a person with whom you want to negotiate is willing to talk with you, take the opportunity to listen a lot in order to first understand his or her perspective. Consider your word choice when laying the groundwork for the conversation. Perhaps start the discussion with, “Thank you so much for meeting with me. Would you like to start by sharing some of the things that are most important to you?” When people have opportunities to convey the information that is very important to them, they are more apt to listen to what you have to say because they are not searching for places in the conversation to insert their points.

Define the problem. Start with the basics by assuring your colleague that you are both working on the same problem and both have the same information about the problem. It is much easier for two (or more) parties to work on the problem if everyone is working on the same problem, or understand that they are working on different, yet related, problems. Additionally, this is an opportunity for all parties to correct misinformation and misunderstandings, and to illuminate the conversation with other critical elements. If working on the same problem, consider restating it in a way that is more collaborative and goal-oriented.

Be transparent. Share as much as you possibly can about the topic or situation at hand (without getting yourself in trouble for sharing too much), and let the other parties know that you will continue to share as much as possible throughout the process. Make good on your promise with quick email messages or visits to colleagues’ offices.

These are some tips to employ the art of negotiation in the IR workplace. Do you have a “key” strategy that has worked for you in your IR role? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.



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Total Comments: 7
Song posted on 4/10/2014 12:30 PM
I really like the article, especially "talk in person". As an IR worker, I mostly email to communicate with most my colleagues and sometimes have to end up with talking in person or making a phone call. The article tells IR workers that it is very important to improve IR works' communication skills.
Meg posted on 4/10/2014 12:45 PM
I, too, really like your suggestions. One thing that has always worked for me is to ask how I might be able to serve the other office's needs.
Jennifer posted on 4/10/2014 3:15 PM
Great advice, Kristina. And I sure wish I could remember it in time (before, not after) finding myself in a opportunity to practice!
Jennifer Brown
Katherine posted on 4/10/2014 4:03 PM
Great stuff---conflict management (like other soft skills) is a very important part of IR work. I like the emphasis on listening. One other thing I would say is you need to be trusted to be effective---and building trust on a campus can take time.
Kristy posted on 4/11/2014 8:46 AM
This is wonderful advice. Our campus is in the middle of a strategic planning process (which I am managing), and negotiation skills certainly come in handy when dealing with faculty, staff, student, and administrative feedback, wants (sometimes BIG ones!), and needs. Thanks for some additional tips.
Eric posted on 4/11/2014 9:31 AM
Thank you, Kristina, your advice is excellent!

I completely agree with the importance of meeting in a private, face to face setting. That's essential, and too often we feel the urge to deal with conflicts via email. Also, I think it is important that we explain our perception of the situation before stating facts. Sometimes what might be a conflict is nothing more than a difference in perception of the same thing, and after talking it out both people realize that they agree but from different perspectives.
Ijay posted on 4/14/2014 1:26 PM
This article is really informative.Much as most people feel that negotiation might bring compromise,this article has shown that it is the best possible and positive way to solve conflicts.However,there are individuals who avoid negotiation,they preempt you and try to avoid negotiation.These are the individuals who have added to the problem of total dependency on quantitative data in IR.In the very normal scenerio,negotiation skills would work,we need also to develop another interpersonal skills for those who avoid negotiation for obvious reasons-superiority or inferiority complex.Since IR workplace is more productive in a friendly environment,wouldnt it be better to separate such people and make them work in less sensitive areas not requiring data.However,negotiation skill is required for all personnel.I suggest every work environment emphasizes the need for negotiation skills for teams to perform.In summary,am adding that IR needs this information and that its worthwhile.Moreover,it seems negotiation is left for the management level as those on the lower level seem not to be perturbed by presence of conflicts even when they might bear the greater blunt.