As something not often taught or learnt, negotiation is a wonderfully stigmatised concept. Images of big, bad, conflict-fuelled situations from TV and movies leave many a little uncomfortable at the thought of wading into these waters. Of course, this is to the lovely advantage of those who take the time to break down the age-old art and render it a skill. Spare yourself the ramblings of a million self-help novel ‘negotiation experts’ by adding the tips below to your business armory.
1. Most Negotiating Doesn't Happen in the Boardroom
Before you go hurtling off like Harvey Specter into a courtroom, realise that the most successful negotiations happen when people don’t have their game face on. Everyone has a business persona or frame when operating at work, it’s a carefully selected guard which will inhibit you from gaining much ground. Take a man out of this environment, say onto the golf course or to a bar, and richer interactions begin to occur. The corollary of this suggests the benefit of keen observation at ‘fringe times’. Consciously tune into the beginnings and endings of structured business situations like meetings – it is these periods of transition where you are most likely to gain insight into the other party.
2. Do Your Research
Above all else, good negotiators are prepared. Arm yourself with data and knowledge on who has bargaining power - know your options, your bottom line and when you’re willing to walk out the door.
Know who you’re dealing with and what means most to them. This allows you to astutely concede things that are of little importance to you but of high importance to them, thus strengthening your position with minimal loss.
3. Let the Other Guy Go First
It’s a good idea to let the other party take the first crack at the terms and numbers. At the very least it tells you something about what they’re thinking, and at best their first offer will be higher than the opening (or even closing) figure that you had in mind. Don’t be afraid to use tactical silence to promote this, it serves one of two purposes: it lets the other person talk or forces the other person to talk. Furthermore, it’s impossible to get a commitment out of someone if they can’t get a word in edgeways.
If you inescapably must go first, it’s imperative you force the "no". Think about it this way: If they say yes to your first offer then you've missed out.
4. Find Common Ground
This isn’t a cutthroat battle like in the movies. Daniel Shapiro, Founder of the Harvard Negotiation Program, highlights that “people react to the other person’s worst fears. Both parties usually walk in expecting the other side to be stubborn and aggressive, so we create this hostile environment. But it doesn’t have to be this way.” Shapiro advises that you should approach any negotiation like you're trying to find a mutually beneficial solution instead of taking the other guy for all you can. You should even go as far as to sit on the same side as the other party (if not literally, then metaphorically).
Further to this, force the “yes” before the “no”. By this I mean pre-plan for early agreements, even if they’re arbitrary. Agreeing on points early on creates relateability between the two parties. That way, by the time you reach the sticking points, the common ground you’ve established will increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to reach an agreement.
5. Fake Empathy, But Mean It
If you can see where the other party is coming from, appeal to their drive by empathising with it. For example, if you’re looking to rent a house and want a lower price:
"The place is gorgeous. I love the photos and I would love to stay there. It's probably worth more than $1,000 a night and your price is a steal. However, I'm on a company budget, and I can only pay $600." You haven’t fought their valuation, you’ve accepted it as fair and appealed to the them on an emotional level.
6. Mollify Then Modify
Acknowledge the other party’s feelings. This is the oldest psychological technique in the book: it sounds as though you've accepted or committed to something, when in truth all you have ‘accepted’ is how the other party feels. The conjunctive clause, which allows you to cancel out the first part of a sentence is a wonderful tool: ‘Yes, but...’, ‘I know how you feel, but…’, 'I couldn’t agree with you more, but…’. People who have mastered this technique can get blood out of stone.
7. Deflect with a Question
If you don’t like what you’re hearing respond with a question, even if it’s no more than ‘Why are you saying that?’ It may cause the other side to scrutinise their position a little more closely and it softens your response. At the very least it keeps them talking while you keep listening.
8. Don't Deal In Round Numbers
Round numbers beg to be negotiated, usually by counter-offer round numbers. Odd numbers sound harder, more firm, and less negotiable. If I hear ‘a hundred thousand dollars’ as a number thrown out in negotiations I get giddy because it’s the world’s most negotiable number. Make it $95,500 or $104,500 and either way you’re probably going to end up with more.
9. It's Not About What's Fair
Many people are gripped by fear in high pressure negotiating situations simply because they’re afraid of what the other person will think. It’s for this reason people make softer offers. A study by Lewis Schiff, author of Business Brilliant, revealed that only 1 out of 10 employees ask for a higher starting salary at an interview, but 9 out of 10 employers expect them to ask and are willing to go higher.
Further research by Schiff shows that when we get what we want in a negotiation, the natural psychological reaction is to feel bad for the other party. It’s for this reason that people let the other party down easy. The converse is true, with studies finding people subconsciously let themselves lose because they feel good for making someone else happy. There’s no quick solution but being aware of how you react subconsciously is a step towards control.
10. And Lastly..
A quote by Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that should be applied to any negotiation:
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."