Master the art of negotiation

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“Every negotiation is different, but the basic elements do not change.” These are the wise words of William Ury, a prominent academic negotiation trainer.

Based on history, we know that great negotiators can prevent wars, build harmonious societies and grow businesses. So, how do you become a master negotiator?

Clarify negotiating goals

Negotiation training helps you set clear and achievable goals. What do you want out of the negotiation process? If you have clear and specific goals, put them down in writing. Set out your most desirable outcome, including the outcomes you and your team would like best.

Once you have your most desirable outcomes determined, take the time to formulate one fallback alternative. Fallback alternatives are terms that you'd still be comfortable agreeing to with another provider or customer. William Ury and Roger Fisher call this fallback position your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).

Get clarity around your least acceptable offer. In business, a customer would consider the highest price they would be willing to pay. A seller would consider the lowest acceptable price.

Determine everyone’s motivation

A key element of negotiator training is finding out what drives the representatives of the company you’re negotiating with. What does the other company want most out of these negotiations? Why are they negotiating? Is it an issue of pride or a desire for maximized profits? What’s their BATNA and their least acceptable offer?

You won’t always know the other side’s motivation but try to put yourself in their shoes. When you know what motivates the other side’s representatives, you're able to create a counteroffer that's advantageous to you and acceptable to them.

Set Rules and Boundaries

Your journey from negotiation class to master negotiator gets easier when everyone at the table works together. Negotiations can easily break down when there are no clear rules. Before setting up a meeting, set boundaries on what is acceptable and expected.

Will this negotiation be a one-on-one conversation or will each side bring along team members? If the negotiation is a group meeting, who is allowed to speak and when? Is the negotiation structured or can anyone jump in at any time?

For each company, who’s the individual authorized to sign a deal or make a binding contract? It would be a disaster to enter into an agreement only for a higher authority to later disown it.

Have a Win-Win Approach

If you walk into a negotiation only focused on what you want, that negotiation is likely doomed to fail. A winner-takes-all contract can lead to mistrust and foster a negative environment. One of the most vital skills for a negotiator is to understand what each side needs out of the agreement. After learning your potential partner’s needs, you can creatively work out solutions that bind all involved as a collective rather than as competing interests.

Be Reluctant

In most negotiations, one side will be eager to seal the deal while the other might need some convincing. Even if you are optimistic about a deal and want a win-win outcome, remember that you shouldn't be the more eager party. In such situations, the eager party is usually willing to make concessions and appeal to the reluctant party. If you're the reluctant party, you can leverage your position to get a better deal.

To convey reluctance, be calm and relaxed. Let your body language show no tension. Eager people tend to lean forward and place their feet under them. They're ready to spring into action once they get a “YES.”

A reluctant participant may talk slower, lean back, stretch their legs out, and generally, look at ease. To be verbally reluctant, say things like, "I will have to consult with the others," "I don't know if doing “X” could deliver the value you promise," etc. Reluctant members on a negotiation team are full of questions and punch holes into the proposal. This is not to be difficult or push for a better deal but to find ways to overcome challenges and mitigate liabilities that may be encountered during implementation.

Watch for Cues

A negotiation workshop may sharpen your skills at spotting cues and identifying clues. Is the other side warming up to the deal or backing out? Did someone take offense to your counteroffer? Was there miscommunication of ideas? Is one side hiding vital information regarding the deal?

In in-person meetings, a body language analysis can point out if your proposal is well-received. Subtle body language, such as eye contact, a firm handshake, arm placement, and head shakes, can give you clues on underlying feelings.

In phone conversations with clients, changes in tone, breathing patterns, and the length of pauses can be great indicators of how your client is leaning.

Written communication like letters, emails, and text messages can provide clues, too. Though, you shouldn't read much into non-verbal cues. Look at the length of what's written and watch out for specific words. Long letters tend to convey a positive message like "we're willing to negotiate." Shorter communication and blunt sentences convey some finality, which can mean "we're done talking." Phrases such as "acceptable," "perhaps," "Are you willing," or "we are ready" show a willingness to reach an agreement.


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