In a single day, headteachers can find themselves negotiating upwards (eg, with a local authority or school governing body), on their level (eg, with school suppliers) or downwards (eg, with staff). They have to remember that no negotiation process is the same; each one should be considered in its own particular context.
And they should especially reserve scepticism for the plethora of training courses and airport books that prescribe the how-to of negotiation, including competitive strategies and tactics to achieve more gains than your opposite. A competitive approach is the wrong one in schools. Negotiation should not be a battle of wits between parties to personally achieve the best deal. It is not difficult to imagine how such a competitive frame might not be the most rewarding in schools’ negotiations.
So, let’s consider the potential of more collaborative-style negotiation in schools. Firstly, a collaborative approach can benefit schools in upward negotiations. School leaders should shape their negotiations around a strong focus on outcomes that will serve mutual interests, rather than (say) emphasising their own personal importance.
When involved in such negotiations, headteachers should work at conveying and promoting an ethos of pulling together in the pursuit of mutual, long-run benefits. Discourse might best be put in terms of how “we” (not “I”) intend to proceed.
Secondly, a collaborative style can also be a useful part of a school’s downward negotiations. Consider a meeting between a headteacher and a valued member of staff, where the latter is unhappy and negative about her job. Knowledge like this can easily escape managers’ radar. But such matters usually warrant immediate negotiation. Given staff turnover and poor retention, headteachers can ill afford to lose valued colleagues.
Promotion and/or salary increases are likely to be difficult at short notice. But maybe collaborative-style negotiation can achieve long-run benefits for all? If one of the main grievances is an excessive workload that impinges on work-life balance, could a collaborative lens lead to the allocation of support staff or a redefinition of the job role? Key to such an approach is collectively seeking more solutions, for more parties, over longer periods.
The long-term view is integral in all collaborative negotiations. All too often, negotiation is viewed as a one-off when a battle is fought; sometimes there is bullying and underhand tactics. Collaborative negotiation forces a long-term problem-solving approach.
And for school leaders it should also be an ongoing approach – don’t wait for the occasions to present themselves. Ongoing collaborative negotiations can be viewed as an integral part of a school’s attempts to nurture trust and strong relationships. Such traits are of immense value in the long run, yet they often go missing or become irreversibly damaged in competitive formal negotiations.