“Christopher Columbus was the best deal maker in history. He left not knowing where he was going, and upon arriving, not knowing where he was. He returned not knowing where he had been, and did it all on borrowed money.” — Anonymous
When we think of what it means to negotiate, we ordinarily think of a give-and-take process. One party gives, the other party gets. And so it continues, until an agreement is reached. Though technically correct, that definition might send out too passive a signal about what a good negotiation entails.
A more useful definition can be found in this online etymological dictionary which states that, beginning in the mid-19th Century, the word “negotiate” acquired the meaning “to clear on horseback a hedge, fence, or other obstacle” and “originated in the hunting-field….”
This latter sense of negotiate works better because it’s more realistic and more dynamic. Negotiation is work — hard work; and it begins way before the negotiators sit down to talk. Parties on both sides of the table have obstacles, fences, and hedges to clear if they eventually intend to strike a solid deal. But don’t sweat the obstacles, fences, and hedges; negotiation is fun if you do it right.
Here are 5 important tips that will help you through the most challenging negotiations.
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said it best: “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” The similarity of a professionally-handled negotiation to an athletic or a musical performance — or for that matter, taking a test — is too obvious to ignore. Study all the issues. Write down what you want to achieve. Write down too what you think (or know) the other party wants. Then practice, practice, practice! Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse! Use a mirror if you must.
Can you be blindsided during a negotiation even if you do practice? No question! But the negotiator who prepares exhaustively will be much more poised for a comeback after being surprised by the man or woman on the other side of the table. The benefits of quick recovery invariably go to the well-rehearsed player.
Learn to Handle the Word “No”
We’re all big boys and girls. We don’t always get what we want. We’ve been told “no” by parents and teachers, coaches, and prospective employers all our lives. The sound of “NO” is not an excuse to freak out during a negotiation. Handled wisely, a “no” can work to your advantage. In fact, sales trainer Elmer Letterman wrote a classic book on the subject: The Sale Begins When the Customer Says “NO.”
What Letterman was getting at in the title of his book is that when someone says “no,” you should consider it an invitation to learn more about what he or she is thinking. Comebacks like “may I ask why?” or “would you mind sharing your thoughts about this with me?” can work wonders, especially when the person on the other side of the table is acting defensively.
Know When to Walk Away
Yes, it’s a lyric from a Kenny Rogers song. But it should also be one of your primary rules of the road in any negotiation. There are certain conditions you simply won’t accept. There are certain forms of behavior you won’t accept. There’s a certain price you refuse to meet. You don’t have to go on and on about these limits. Just maintain them as unstated principles. In any negotiation, you’ll emerge the stronger for doing so. But if you do walk, do so with grace and dignity. That way, if the other side calls for another meeting, they already know some of your minimum conditions.
Be a 24/7 Negotiator
Think of negotiation as a mindset or a way of life. A friend of mine had what he thought was a strange-sounding European surname. He was too proud of his heritage to change it; but he wasn’t too proud to be opportunistic when dining in a fancy restaurant. He made it a point to phone in his reservation as one for “Dr. Harrison.” He wasn’t a doctor; he was a businessman. But he insisted he received preferential treatment that way when he made reservations.
If you think of negotiation as a way to strategically present your needs and requests — whether you’re shopping at the supermarket, talking with your child’s teacher, asking for tickets up front at a sporting event, or even making a major business deal — you’ll have a far better shot at coming out on top in all aspects of your life.