Odds are you negotiate all the time. But the question is, are you conscious of it and are you any good at it?
1. Build rapport in the beginning and all along the way.
Negotiation is often viewed as a battle, a contest, or a tug of war. But the goal of negotiations is to reach an agreement, so negotiations are actually a process of moving from “us” versus “them” to find a common “we” to build on.
By spending time getting to know the other person or checking in about what’s going on with them, we start the process of creating a “we” out of the separate interests we each bring to the negotiation process. Building rapport is not just something we do once at the beginning, but an ongoing process of paying attention to the relationship. Courtesy and civility can go a long way in helping maintain rapport.
2. Decide what you really want.
Negotiation always involves a process of trying to get something that you want, or avoid something you don’t want. You will be much more successful if you keep asking yourself “What do I really want?” Think in terms of “interests” rather than “positions.” A “position” of a parent with a teenager might be “I want you to clean up your room by noon or you can’t go out tomorrow night.” “Interests” might be “I want the room to be cleaned up,” “I want my teenager to take more responsibility,” and “I want our relationship to be one of mutual respect where we can really talk things through.” When we are aware of our “interests” and don’t get locked into our “positions,” we can see more options.
3. Find out what the other person wants.
It may not always be clear what the other person wants, so you may need to ask. If you’re negotiating with a prospective client about retaining your services, you need to find out what their concerns and questions are. They may want assurances that you can solve the problem they have, that you have enough experience, that you will understand their needs, that you will deliver your services on time, and that the cost will be within their budget. You may need to do some probing to find out what their real concerns are, and this leads to the next key.
4. Practice active listening.
To understand what is most important to the other person, especially at an emotional level where many decisions are made, you need to listen for more than the facts they give you. You need to listen for meaning, impact, and significance. What really matters to them? And you also need to make sure you’re understanding them. One of the best ways to do this is to regularly reflect back what you’re hearing and asking if you’re understanding what they’re saying. This not only keeps building rapport and connection, but it also avoids unexpected misunderstandings that can derail a negotiation later.
5. Don’t get attached to a single outcome.
You’ll be more successful in your negotiations if you are not attached to only one possible outcome. If you’re negotiating to buy a classic Ford Mustang car that you’ve been dreaming about for 10 years and it has everything you’ve always wanted, it’s hard not to feel that having this car is the only outcome you can live with. But in most negotiations, if you focus on “interests” rather than “positions” as we discussed above, you can start to see more than one possibility. Your chances of getting an outcome you want can increase dramatically.
6. Look for win-win opportunities.
When you consider what both you and the other person really want, you can begin to look for solutions that work for both of you. A common mistake in negotiations is thinking that compromise is the way for both parties to win some of what they want. But both parties may have different interests that complement each other. By looking for win-win opportunities, both parties may get all of what they want. That’s the “win-win” outcome you should always be looking for.
7. Explore options rather than making offers.
If you make an offer and the other person refuses it, you “lose” that round. But if you raise an option and the other person tells you why that wouldn’t work for them, you’ve learned something but you haven’t lost anything. Here’s an example: If you’re negotiating to buy a boat from an individual who is asking $7500, you could make an offer saying: “I’ll give you $6500 in cash. I can have the money here within an hour.”
Or you could explore an option saying: “I’m interested in your boat but $7500 is too much for me to pay. What if I were to offer you $6000 and agree to take over the lease on your space in the marina. And what if you were to use the boat next weekend for that last cruise you were mentioning, and we settled everything on Monday? How does something like that sound to you?” There can be a subtle difference between making an offer and exploring an option, but the latter lets you fly a “trial balloon” without committing yourself to it. It makes it easier for the other person to explore a variation of your option or for you to come back with another option that may be more acceptable.
8. Don’t push the other person into a corner.
The most common example of this is when someone says “This is my final offer. Take it or leave it.” Try to avoid making ultimatums because they can make the other person feel that their only way to “win” is to say “no.” Instead, use the approaches described here to keep looking at options. Sometimes the only option is to take a break from the negotiation because you haven’t been able to reach an agreement. But taking a break is better because it offers the possibility of coming back later to explore other possibilities.
9. What to do when you don’t know what to say
If you don’t know what to say, one option is to keep quiet and think. Collect your thoughts. You will hardly ever go wrong by pausing and thinking. You can say, “I need to think about this.” Because most people are uncomfortable with it, silence can draw out the other person and cause them to suggest a solution.
Another option is to ask a question such as “If we were to reach an agreement that works for both of us, what would that need to include for you to feel good about it?” Some of the best questions are those designed to clarify what the other person wants.
A third option is to make a neutral observation about the process, such as “I think we’re making progress but we seem to be stuck on this point about (whatever it is).” An “un-neutral” observation would be something like “you seem to reject everything I propose without even considering it.” Don’t go there. A neutral observation is one that they would probably agree with and that may help you find a place from which to move forward.
10. Test for agreement as you go along.
Negotiated agreements often consist of a series of smaller or partial agreements, so finding those partial agreements can help further the process toward a final agreement. You can simply state the points where you seem to agree or be close to an agreement, and see if you’re reading the signals correctly.
In a negotiation with a spouse about how to divide up meal preparation, you might test for partial agreement by saying “It sounds like we agree that it isn’t fair for one of us to do most of the shopping, cooking, and clean up. And since we both work, we should find ways to divide it fairly equally. We agree that you like cooking a lot more than shopping, and I actually enjoy the shopping….” In this example, the spouse might reply, “Yes, I agree with all of that, but I don’t want to cook every night, even if you did everything else. And I especially don’t want to be the one who plans all the menus. If we could do the menu planning together and then you cook or get take out two nights a week, then we’d just have to find a reasonable way to divide up the clean up…”
How can you improve your negotiating skills? Start seeing more of your interactions as negotiations where the goal is to reach an agreement so you both get as much as possible of what you most want. Apply these keys. Practice and reflect on what works. You’ll soon notice that you’re getting better outcomes in your interactions with other people. And they’re feeling happier working with you.