When you think of negotiating, does it conjure up visions of sleazy used-car salesmen or tough-talking businessmen with the chutzpah of Donald Trump? Contrary to this unfortunate stereotype, you don’t have to be pushy, obnoxious or even especially forceful to succeed at business negotiation.
Successful negotiation isn’t about getting your way (although of course, that’s part of what you hope to accomplish). Good negotiation means creating a win-win situation so that both you and your counterpart leave feeling as if you’ve come out on top. Business today is all about relationships, and if you take a scorched-earth approach to negotiations, you’ll quickly burn your bridges.
Before the negotiation:
- Begin your negotiation with a little pre-game preparation. Think about what you want out of the exchange, and try to guess what your counterpart is likely to want.
- Next, decide what you can and can’t budge on. In a win-win negotiation, both sides must be ready to compromise. By knowing ahead of time where you are willing to compromise, you’ll be able to negotiate more effectively.
- Keep your eyes on the prize. It’s easy to get flustered during negotiations and lose sight of your final goal. Go into negotiations with a long-term view, not a short-term orientation.
During the negotiation:
- Spend time listening to the other party. Most of us have trouble listening because we are too busy thinking about what we want to say next. Put that out of your mind and take the time to hear your counterpart’s concerns.
- Go beyond words. Good negotiators are sensitive to what’s not said. Keep an eye on your counterpart’s body language, mood and general demeanor. By tuning into how the person is acting, you’ll get insights into the emotional aspects of the transaction and be better able to fill those emotional needs. For instance, some negotiators may want to feel like they are in charge. Let them lead the discussion. Others are wary of being cheated; calm their anxiety by emphasizing things like guarantees.
- Think before you speak. Being comfortable with silence is a great negotiating skill. Many of us chatter to fill uncomfortable silences, but in negotiation, that can lead to revealing too much. Take time to ponder your responses—and if your silence unnerves the other party so much that they blurt out a concession, so much the better.
- Be ready to walk away. If the negotiation gets heated or reaches a stalemate, it’s OK to table it for a later time. Say something like, “I think we’ve gone as far as we can with this today. Shall we step away from it for a few days and regroup next week?” This is a polite approach that gives you both time to cool off and think things through.
After the negotiation:
- Agree on next steps, action items and responsibilities.
- Put any contracts in writing as soon as possible, while the negotiation is still fresh.
- Be sure you live up to your end of the bargain and deliver on what was promised.