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Negotiate to reach your program goals

By Amber Shanahan

You may cringe when you think about negotiating, but I’m here to tell you that negotiation does not have to inherently apply to conflict or uncomfortable conversations. Negotiation is a powerful tool that can be used to ensure you’re utilizing all of your constituent’s assets to their full potential to best support the youth you serve.

As a youth worker, you are one player on a field consisting of families, funders, policy makers, research experts and of course, youth. The goal of this team is to provide the most effective and appropriate services to your youth members, and each player provides differing levels of expertise and expectations. To navigate this sea of stakeholder expectations, youth work requires planning and negotiation.

Negotiation is an interpersonal decision-making process necessary whenever we cannot achieve our objectives single handedly. Negotiation must happen in board meetings, with committees, with youth groups and with colleagues.

Some tips for effective negotiation

  • Identify your collective main objective. All youth workers and organizational stakeholders can agree on one thing; the desired objective is to provide appropriate, safe, and valuable services to the youth population served. Once you identify this very obvious common interest, a sense of camaraderie can be built and collaboration can begin.
  • Build an understanding of each stakeholder’s strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and desired results through implementation of the S.O.A.R. analysis process. Pinpoint how all of your personal and organizational goals are interconnected and use these overlaps as negotiating terms that can be agreed upon right away.
  • Though you might identify areas of possible collaboration, don’t expect complete homogeneity of views. Each stakeholder has her own agenda, needs, and interests. Consider how you can slice the pie to support the youths' best interests while knowing that each participant may walk away with a smaller slice of that pie than they had expected.
  • Consider possible conflicts of interest. Youth work is built on community, and often this community includes constituents who have relationships both at the negotiation table and outside of the organization.  How are these relationships affecting your ability to negotiate? Is it necessary to modify the players to support the best interests of your youth members?
  • Educate your constituents on your role and your limitations. In your role, what can you support? What is out of your control or beyond your function? Set realistic expectations early on, and share all possible outcomes -- not just the favorable ones.

Have you used negotiation in your work with youth and other stakeholders? How has negotiation worked for you? What have you learned along the way?

-- Amber Shanahan, Extension educator

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  1. I've learned that when negotiating it is important to be clear when a commitment to a goal has been made. When brainstorming, discussing and negotiating with a group it can be easy for misunderstandings to occur. Groups can reach consensus and clarity in a number of ways.

    Regardless of how the decision is made, it is important that the group has a common understanding of what the program goal is.


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