Interview with Petra Wolkenstein, our negotiation expert from Konsultori
If you follow the Female Founders programs or events, you have probably come across the name Petra Wolkenstein more than once. Petra is one of our speakers who is not only an expert in her field but also a supportive mentor for female entrepreneurs. In her own business, Konsultori, Petra works with her customers on both investor and business negotiations using different skills and techniques. She also runs the Konsultori Digital Academy for self-paced training.
In this blog post, we asked her all about who she works with, why she started a training course, how to close a deal, and more tips for negotiating! Let’s get right into it!
You’ve learned it, you practice it, and you teach it – negotiation is at the centre of your life. What does negotiation mean to you?
Negotiation is an opportunity. It is the starting point of working together and achieving something for all parties. The first step is for both parties to understand each other well. At the very beginning of the negotiations, it’s important to get to know the goals and beliefs of both sides. Curiosity definitely helps in the process.
Very often I meet founders who do not like to negotiate or would like to feel more comfortable doing it. It always shows that good preparation is central to discussing options confidently with others.
Negotiation for me brings clarity about how people interact with each other, and what is important to everyone, and at the same time has the potential to create a win-win.
Trying to avoid a negotiation leaves things unresolved and potentially leaves the best possible outcome for both parties undiscussed. Even though it may feel uncomfortable at times, negotiation brings clarity for your own goals and options, understanding others, and last but not least, opportunities to achieve something better together instead of going for it alone.
Trying to reach an agreement through negotiations is part of everyday business. As a negotiation expert, what do you think: is negotiation a skill one can develop or an ability?
I think there are no born bad negotiators. It’s just a matter of training the skill and working with the methodology like the interest-based negotiation technique. Negotiation sometimes is regarded as something mystical that needs to be de-mystified.
People need to recognize and understand the mechanisms behind negotiations, e.g. understanding the pie on the table and plan Bs. It is something that can be learned and improved through practice. Rather than having the best talent, there is always something to get better at. Leading negotiations is like a journey of improvement.
What are the top three improvements you see in negotiations after people have started to focus on developing their negotiation skills?
Most people start analyzing their own tactics and understanding the tactics of others and are able to react in a good way. Simply because some basic mechanisms can be understood, for example, the salami tactic or vertical negotiation. Still, it takes time and practice to improve negotiating, but the first step of understanding tactics is done.
The process of when to talk about what during negotiations is also clearer when dissecting negotiation techniques. It makes a difference whether people jump to conclusions or whether they are aware that we all assume things about others and need to verify that first before actually really negotiating.
A major point we very often have when starting training sessions is that people would like to feel better when negotiating. This is a lot driven by mixing up the relationship with the content you need to discuss. So we are training this during the sessions so that people learn to stand up for their needs and communicate them in a way that others can understand and accept.
Many founders and female business leaders have great business and product skills but little negotiation experience. Do you have a tip on how to close a good deal?
A major game-changer of negotiation is hidden in the work you do before you actually sit down at the table and start negotiating. During the training, we discuss how to prepare well for sessions and what needs to be checked before actually kicking off a negotiation. It helps to understand one’s own and others’ limits and goals as a basis.
A good deal often means that it is a long-lasting deal and not just a deal for the moment. In order to last long, all long-term interests of participants need to be addressed in the terms of a deal. So when we do our negotiation exercises, people learn to pay attention to multiple things to negotiate in parallel and to find out about priorities and importance for both parties.
Last but not least, you would like to make sure to discuss and negotiate with the right person in a larger organization and ask yourself: “Does the person have the decision power?” “Who else decides and what is the hidden agenda of these people?” “What is the right sequence of talking to people?” This can change a negotiation result quite a lot.
Your company Konsultori regularly offers workshops for women founders, you were invited as a coach to the Female Future Festival, and you cooperate with the Vienna Business Agency’s programmes for women entrepreneurs. What drives you to work with female entrepreneurs?
We are working with different types of founders in different set-ups and I am truly convinced of diverse teams. However, sometimes it is necessary to provide a space among like-minded people to truly discuss the challenges they might have openly. I love the non-recorded sessions in smaller groups to enable exactly this, good sincere exchange and discussion on how to improve soft skills like negotiation techniques and to openly share where challenges are and how to overcome them. I think in this, female founders and its programs are quite unique.
Venture Capital Investor | CEO Tech M&A and Strategy
Petra Wolkenstein is an expert in M&A and growth in the technology sector. She combines her consulting experience in Eastern Europe and the Middle East with her work with startups on scaling and startup financing. She founded Konsultori, a growing team of business experts for startup and SME development.