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What small businesses can learn from the Brexit negotiations

Tony Hughes, CEO at Huthwaite International, talks negotiation skills, the Brexit approach and what businesses can learn from negotiations with the EU 27. 

In light of Brexit, the sheer importance of faultless negotiation has been thrown firmly into the limelight. With a web of policies to unpick and unprecedented amounts of regulation to negotiate, alongside a heavily disturbed political climate, Theresa May and the Brexit team have likely felt more than a little overwhelmed when it comes to implementing the most complex negotiation the UK has experienced since our entry into the EU itself.

Using Brexit as an opportunity to learn what good looks like in negotiations

However, the Brexit lessons do pose an opportunity for small businesses to learn some fundamental lessons when it comes to negotiating. We are witnessing an example of complex negotiation skills being played out on the world stage like never before, and it’s almost a certainty that key lessons can be learned and maximised for those that deal with negotiations day in day out.

The most successful small businesses don’t automatically default to cutting costs or raising prices when looking to increase profit, they hone their negotiating prowess. Yet its power, and the positive impact it can have on the bottom line, remains largely unacknowledged and hence underused.

The role of negotiation in a small business

The role of negotiation has never been so important for small business. As economies across the globe shift and change, and services that were once highly differentiated are now seen as commodities, deals and supplier relationships require ever greater skill. This naturally has a knock on effect for small businesses, who often find themselves at the end of a very complex supply chain.

By investing in building internal negotiation skills within your business – either through the right training, the right recruitment, or both – the capability becomes far less elusive. The small enterprises that develop an abundance of that capability will be those that secure greater profit margins, increased efficiencies and a more sustainable business model.

Negotiating is no easy task. There are hundreds of variables and you need to be adaptable to the situation, who you’re dealing with and the current environment, whilst keeping your eyes on the prize and being sensitive to what you’re able to offer in conjunction to what your fellow negotiator needs. Huthwaite International recently undertook a report that revealed some key learnings that we should consider prior to Brexit and indeed any other business deal.

Power is important, but doesn’t guarantee success

For the UK during Brexit negotiations, feeling less powerful at the start of the process didn’t guarantee an unsuccessful outcome for the disadvantaged party, in a nutshell feeling more powerful doesn’t necessarily guarantee success – it depends on how the negotiator harnesses their power. So, it’s essential that just like the Brexit negotiators, and indeed any other negotiator, you carefully consider your position and strength from day one. Whether you think this has been done effectively as part of the Brexit process is another matter.

 It’s easy to irritate your opponent, and this can lead to failure

Our study also revealed just how easy it is to become irritating when negotiating – placing an importance on the behavioural element of the four pillars. Testing understanding is a behaviour that remains crucial in negotiation, whether used for clarification or in an incredulous way to challenge thinking whilst avoiding being irritating. To this end, successful negotiators are those who are more likely to ask questions to persuade or influence the other side, as opposed to being overly pushy and forgetting to listen. We’ve seen a lot of both of these behaviours throughout the Brexit negotiations to date.

Preparing for all circumstances is paramount

As demonstrated by the EU Referendum itself, and indeed the l negotiations, preparing for a curve ball as part of your strategy and tactical approach is essential. Without flexibility and the ability to adapt your approach according to circumstances, you can find yourself in a stalemate situation, or worse; out of the negotiation all together. Reading behaviour, utilising the information you have effectively, and remaining personable are all core skills required to fully ensure that, despite those unexpected bumps on the road to striking a deal, you have the flexibility, finesse and skills to overcome such challenges.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, a deal will have to be made. As a result, businesses will have the opportunity to learn and gain a new level of understanding of what it means to negotiate effectively, be it through the failings or the successes of the deals made in Brussels.

If you’re looking to discover more about the art of negotiation, Huthwaite International has a whole host of online resources to help educate and up-skill those interested in improving their techniques. Extensive resources can be found online here:

  1. Improving negotiation performance –  A benchmark study of the world’s leading companies and how they are negotiating
  2. How well are you negotiating? What the top global companies are doing and what you can learn for your own small business


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