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Everybody uses them at some point. If you’ve bought a car, persuaded a child to tidy their room, secured a pay rise, escaped washing up after dinner, won a vote, or sold a company, you’re already experienced in negotiation. So have you ever wondered how much more you and your team could achieve by building more effective negotiation skills?
Contrary to popular belief, negotiation is not a mysterious and magical art form practiced exclusively in conference rooms. It’s a soft skill that all employees can learn, and has at its heart a simple eight-step process.
Developing your negotiation skills not only gives you the tools to analyze high profile deals, it also prepares you to succeed in any situation involving people. This makes negotiation a highly transferable soft skill – critical not only at the top, but at every level of your business.
Our negotiation tips cover the classic eight-step process from preparation through to the ‘in-room’ experience; then go beyond to cover the all-important follow-up.
1. Preparation – know who you’re dealing with
Most negotiations that fail, and there many high profile examples to choose from, do so in part because one side doesn’t understand the other.
Knowing a little about the other person’s character, attitudes, track record, and communication style will be of great benefit.
You should also examine their cultural background which can, if different to your own, mean that the way they use language and build rapport is very different to your own approach.
2. Predict their needs
You need to do your research and ask insightful questions from the outset.
- What are their motives?
- What do they want?
- What are their priorities?
- What do you have at our disposal that is of value to them?
A common mistake is people’s tendency to assume that the other party is just like us; they have the same wants, fears and motivations as we do. It’s almost never the case.
If you understand where they’re coming from, you can better predict both what they want, and how they might react to your offer.
3. In the room – connect
We can often get caught up on the ‘things’ that we will get when we make a deal, but this can be a mistake. Negotiations, like the most effective communication, are really about people.
How you connect and build rapport with the other side can massively influence the outcome.
To truly achieve that all important ‘win-win’ outcome, start by working with the person across the table, not against them.
4. Be positive
A positive attitude can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you go in expecting that you’re going to make a deal that satisfies the interests of both parties, you’re much more likely to have that outcome.
Your goal should always be to create a mutually beneficial arrangement. To get there, you need to connect with the other party on a human level and preferably face to face so that you can both read each other.
5. Mind your language
Your language, both verbal and nonverbal, really matters. Using words like “long-term” and “common ground” can convey a sense of common interest and lasting value.
Your body language is also a crucial ingredient as well as your tone of voice. Both should be relaxed, calm, friendly and respectful.
6. Aim higher
It’s a common mistake: you start a negotiation slightly afraid of scaring off your adversary by asking for too much.
The result will always be that you get less than you wanted. It stems from a fear that asking for too much might upset the other party and kill the deal before it ever has a chance.
If you want ten dollars then ask for $15 and let them talk you down to ten. If you ask for ten at the outset the chances are that you will end up with seven. There’s also the possibility that you will get what you ask for which is a welcome bonus.
7. It’s not all about the $
Money isn’t the only currency, yet so many of us focus on financial demands.
This is a big mistake, mainly because most of what we exchange will be based around services, ideas, good-will, timescales, changes to the brief, and other non-cash currencies. Their true value lies in the fact that our opposite numbers don’t have them, and want them from you!
If your negotiation is stuck, ask yourself, is there anything besides money that you have that’s important to them?
8. Start with agreement
Early agreement creates more relatability between the two parties.
The classic eight steps of negotiation leave agreement to the end of the process, just before a formalized contract or ‘handshake agreement’ is made.
All rules are made to be broken or bent, so let’s bend this one by starting with all the things you both agree on.
9. Be prepared to walk
Conventional wisdom tells us that the ‘win-win’ outcome is best. In other words, both of you getting a deal that you can live with and that also offers mutual benefit.
Being prepared for a ‘no deal’ is also important and if you depend too much on the positive outcome of a negotiation, you lose your ability to say no.
If you recognize that you have other options, the other negotiator will sense this too and it might affect their approach and willingness to compromise.
10. Post-negotiation skills – it’s all about the detail
Before you open the champagne to celebrate your amazing deal, get the admin sorted.
You need to get the terms in writing and have it signed off by both parties.
We’re all aware of deals in the public eye that seem to be complete, but run into trouble when it comes to the sign-off. Take note: there are lessons to be learned here.
Final thoughts on negotiation skills
Rounding off there is one final negotiation skills tip that is incredibly relevant in an age of high profile attempts at making seemingly impossible deals. If you’ve ever played Poker, you may have already learned the hard way that by showing your hand too early, you can lose everything.
Our bonus tip? Play your cards close to your chest. In other words, don’t give your strategy or goals away before you start negotiating. Still, remember that the tips offered here are only a starting point on the path to more effective negotiations for you and your team. True success can only come as a result of encouraging the development of negotiation skills, practicing them, and continuing to devise new and more advanced strategies.