ANY activity that involves two or more people trying to reach an agreement usually requires some degree of negotiation.

In fact, it is about as easy to avoid negotiating as it is to avoid breathing. But unlike breathing, negotiating effectively is not an automatic reflex for most people.

Most people tend to think of negotiation as a contest between adversaries, where there is a clear winner and loser. However, when it is handled well, negotiation can satisfy both parties.

It can be a process in which the parties decide together what each will give and take in a long-term relationship, regardless of whether the relationship is between peers, bosses or subordinates.

In the workplace, negotiating skills must be finely honed to be effective, as it is a highly complex environment where many factors must be considered if your thoughts, ideas and proposals are to be accepted.

A manager-employee relationship is a two-way street, and managing your boss is just as important to your career development as being managed.

Upward management means strategically working with the style and goals of a colleague and blending them with your own approach to achieve results and accomplish your career objectives.

You need to speak the same language and focus on the factors that matter to the person you want to influence.

Another key element is building trust in the relationship by being trustworthy. Make every effort to be honest and dependable by honouring commitments and deadlines. Your positive example will impact not only your boss but also those around you.

Know your objectives

Before meeting the decision-maker, you need to be clear in your own mind about what your objectives are.

Think of the advantages and disadvantages of the idea, and identify and address your negotiating partner's business needs.

One of the first steps towards better negotiation - the one most people are least inclined to take - is to set aside the fear of conflict.

Many people tend to interpret conflict as a personal attack, which prevents them from engaging in constructive debate.

So they behave like members of one big happy team in complete agreement, which can end up being destructive, as everyone becomes so cooperative that the whole organisation leaps off the cliff edge in unison!

Decide on your priorities

Another crucial step towards negotiating successfully is to understand your priorities: What is most important to you and what are you willing to sacrifice?

Spend some time trying to understand your "opponents" and their interests and priorities.

Managers often mistakenly think: "What I want is what they want", which is not always true.

A better approach might be to ask: "Why should they want to do what I want them to do? What's in it for them?"

Once you have considered the needs of both sides, you can look for concessions.

What do you want that the other party can afford to concede and vice versa?

This kind of trade-off will allow everyone to gain from the negotiation.

To negotiate effectively, don't get so caught up in your own message that you don't hear and understand what the other party needs to reach an agreement.

As you improve your listening skills, you increase your negotiating effectiveness by collecting more information to use in your search for solutions.

Ask for what you want

When you negotiate with your superiors, you need to avoid falling prey to the "emperor's new clothes" syndrome - in other words, agreeing with their point of view just because they hold a position of authority.

While presenting an alternative viewpoint may make them defensive - and even put a negative spin on your actions later on - at least you won't have to deliver a flawed concept to your own subordinates.

One way to avoid open confrontation in this situation is to de-personalise the conversation, referring specifically to the project goals and not the project owner.

Remember that bosses are not mind readers. To get what you want in your organisation, you have to ask for it and you have to sell your boss on the idea. This is not manipulation but a legitimate set of techniques to make it easier for your boss to understand and accept your ideas. Don't expect your boss to understand your concerns automatically.

Delivering your message effectively is crucial in getting your ideas across. Learn how to present them in a way that motivates those you want to influence.

Always include your manager's goals when presenting ideas. Select your language, forum and timing when other more pressing issues are not taking up your boss's attention.

With a conscious effort, you can overcome the communication barriers that impair understanding.

By improving the delivery of your message to your peers and bosses, you can negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement.