When leaders make it a priority to practice good habits at work, it makes a positive impact on the relationships they have with their employees, their business outcomes, and their own personal effectiveness.

Leaders have the great responsibility of bringing about a successful future for their organizations and customers. One of the many realities of a leader’s day-to-day experience is managing competing priorities and fielding needs and requests from employees and clients alike. Two critical habits leaders can develop to best lead in these conditions are problem solving and negotiating.

I spoke with Andrew Sykes, the CEO and Founder of Habits at Work, during the final episode of our four-part Thrive By Design: The Podcast series. Sykes, who helps people create and master high-impact work practices, described how to develop the habits of solving problems and negotiating, and why these skills are critical for leaders to do their jobs well.

In the previous three episodes in this podcast series, Sykes discussed three habits that make you a magnetic leader, three practices you should implement to prepare to perform at your highest levels in the workplace, and three key habits to become a trusted leader.

Read on for highlights from our conversation to learn how to strengthen these high-performing habits to thrive in your leadership role and drive your company forward:

Don: What opportunities do leaders have to improve their current problem solving skills?

Andrew: There are so many approaches to solving problems, but I think of this habit as not simply solving problems, but solving them in a new way from the point of view of the customer or employee.

For example, when I rent a car, imagine what problem the car rental company is solving for me. The obvious answer is to help me get around in a new city where I don’t have a car, but actually, from my point of view, there are many related problems that I have. One is finding my way around a new city. The second is the hassle of getting the car from the rental agency quickly and being able to return it without having to find a gas station in an unfamiliar city to fill it up.

In this case, I would like the car rental company to solve all of my problems related to being in a new city, and renting and returning a car. If they looked at the problem from my point of view, they could solve my problems by considering, for example, what I’m doing right before I get in the car and what I’ll do afterwards. They would focus on solving not only my functional needs but my emotional needs as well.

How would you like to rent a car from a company that has someone standing at the exit of the airport with your name on a sign, like you would enjoy if you rented from a premium car service? Your rental car would be right there for you to literally step into curbside at the airport. The GPS would be included in the car as a standard feature and the address of your first meeting preloaded into the GPS, so you can go straight there. When you return the car, you could just call the rental car company on the way to the airport, someone meets you to take the car from you, and you walk right into the airport.

You may be thinking: Wow, that sounds wonderful, but it also sounds impossible. However, I’ll tell you that I’ve enjoyed this kind of service from rental car companies in other countries. It is possible to scale, provided you understand that many customers like me are willing to pay a premium for these extra problems to be solved. I was happy to pay 25 or 50 percent more for the car to have these additional problems solved and embedded in the service.

If you only consider the problem to be renting a car at the cheapest possible price, you won’t consider solving the many annoying problems that the highest-using car rental customers like me and you face every single day.

When we bring this habit into our companies, we start considering every aspect of our employees’ or clients’ needs – not just the obvious problems we know they face or the obvious service we know we’re providing. The more leaders think about, and then act on, the full scope of a stakeholder’s problem, the more they are building loyalty and trust for both their clients and employees.

Don: Let’s dive into this next habit of negotiation.

Andrew: People have so many weird ideas about negotiation, what it means, and how it makes you look. I like to think of negotiation from a different point of view: It is the art of getting what you want while making sure that your customer gets what they need. When done well, they feel that you’ve been fair, and they look forward to their next encounter with you. It’s really an act of service. If you’re a good negotiator, you deliver on other people’s human need to win or feel like they’re winning, while you are still able to get what you want. It’s about creating a win-win situation for everyone and being fair in the way that you deal with people.

We don’t generally prepare well for negotiations. Preparing means having things we can offer, as well as many things we can ask for during a negotiation. In this way, we can barter and allow both sides to enjoy the benefits of winning in a conversation, and, at the same time, protect and ensure we come close to achieving our key ambitious goals for a negotiation.

When we lead a negotiation, we signal strength, and we gain this anchoring advantage by putting our offer on the table first. Then, if we quickly follow that offer up by conceding early and ensuring we have things to give away or enhance the offer during the negotiation, we signal that we’re fair, reasonable, flexible, and generous. While our customer is gaining some of these smaller advantages, we gain the big relationship advantage. Plus, we increase our odds of achieving our key goal.

Lastly, when negotiating, it’s important to always offer three side-by-side options from which your customers can choose or consider. There’s a lot to say about why this rule of three is almost magical, but it’s the right balance between offering people what feels like enough choice and giving them a sense of flexibility, while not overwhelming them with decision fatigue. There’s a lot more to the art and the habit of negotiation, but these elements go a long way to ensure a win-win outcome for everyone.

Don: Do you know any business leaders who are practicing and finding success from each of these critical habits that we’ve discussed during our four-part podcast series on the topic?

Andrew: I’ve had the luxury of meeting many wonderful people who practice these habits and are extraordinary as a result. One person that comes to mind is my speaking coach, a Vistage chair, and a dear friend, Mikki Williams. She is one of those magnetic people that others flock to. People like being in her presence because of how she behaves. She’s a firm negotiator, but she leaves people feeling like they got what they need and much more. The enduring effect is, when she leaves the room, people say this about her: She’s so much more than I expected based on first appearance. When people practice these habits, their behaviors become much more impressive than the first impression you have of them could ever be. Isn’t that something we would all love as leaders – to get better over time rather than our first impression being the peak?

Looking for more guidance to build the skills necessary to support a thriving culture in your workplace? Join us for this one-day intensive dive into the science of employee engagement on November 19 in Rockville, MD!

Key Takeaways:

  • Because leaders have a responsibility to drive their companies forward, it’s essential that they’re skilled in the habit of solving problems and negotiating.
  • When you view solving problems as solving the whole issue from the employee or customer’s point of view, you’ll achieve a better outcome than if you’re only thinking about the main problem that’s in front of you.
  • Many people avoid negotiating or view it as something they’re not confident in. However, it really should be looked at as an act of service. When you’re skilled in negotiating, you deliver on other people’s human need to win, while you get what you want.