The higher up the ladder you climb, the more important will be your negotiating skills. Much of everyday life for senior executives and professionals involves negotiations of some sort. Skilled negotiators know that successful negotiations come not from the cards they hold but from the skillful playing of those cards. But you first have to deal yourself a hand.
The most common negotiating error is not made during the negotiation itself, but is made before the actual negotiation begins. The mistake is not preparing properly. Proper preparation is critical in determining the cards you will hold during the negotiation itself.
Of course you need to know everything there is to know about your own negotiating position and how you’re going to make your case. The bigger problem is anticipating the other side’s positions, what cards they are apt to be holding, how those cards will be played and how you will respond. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to anticipate the points and objections that will be raised. Properly prepared negotiators are already ahead of the game.
Another key consideration in the playing of your negotiating cards is to find out as much as you can about all the facts of the situation and then carefully analyze them. Determine whether there is some specific information that might make or break you, and if there is, decide how you’re going to deal with it. Don’t start actual negotiations until you completely understand all the issues; until then you should merely exchange information with the other side. You have to gain an understanding of the other side’s needs and decide how you can fulfill at least some of them. Only an idiot holds out for absolutely everything.
Play your trump cards only with people who can actually make decisions. If the person across the table from you can’t make binding decisions, don’t go beyond exchanging information. There’s no point making your key positions known to people who can’t act on them.
It’s more important to determine what is right than who is right. Successful negotiators keep the focus on solving the problem rather than defeating each other. Total win or total loss provides no options. When both sides respect each other, disagreements can remain a genuine effort to understand differences. You can’t antagonize and persuade at the same time, so when you have to reject another person’s idea be sure to reject only the idea, not the person.
Always start by listing the points of agreement. You have to accept what you believe to be true, even if it hurts your case; and you should never tamper with the truth. In any negotiation, it’s most effective to concentrate on the objective and then work backwards through the obstacles.
To the extent possible negotiate only one issue at a time. You can make a list of all the issues, but each item should be dealt with in at least some degree of isolation. Otherwise, you will end up with so much linkage of points that possible compromises may be missed, unnecessarily prolonging the process. And compromise is what a negotiation is all about; otherwise it’s just a fight, not a negotiation. If there’s no room for compromise, there’s no room for negotiation.
Another characteristic of negotiating to remember is that gaining something that is extremely unprofitable to the other side is apt to eventually be unprofitable to you, most probably by having to make a larger concession later on.
In the long run, the quality of your compromises will be more important than the quantity of your positions. By giving up a few points of lesser value you can sometimes later win an extremely valuable point.
As already mentioned, in any successful negotiation each side must determine the needs of the other and fulfill at least some of them. The exact needs of both sides are seldom the same, so it should be possible for both to “win” in a negotiation. The best solution to any conflict is one that helps both sides in some way, so the best way to “win” in a negotiation is by finding a way by which the other side doesn’t have to “lose”.
You need a lot of patience to be an effective negotiator. It’s rare to be able to obtain the best outcome quickly; speed usually means risk, so don’t let the other side set the pace if you’re uncomfortable with it. You should never play your real deadline card until you absolutely have to. Once the other side knows your real deadline, the pace of the negotiation is virtually set.
Just as you wouldn’t let an opponent always deal the cards in a card game, you shouldn’t let the other side dominate the tone of a negotiation. As much as possible discuss the issue in your terms and stay with your line of reasoning. Don’t use the other side’s language to describe a situation; always stick to your own terminology. However, you do have to tailor your arguments to take into consideration the personalities, attitudes, and experiences of those you are negotiating with. You have to make your points in terms that the other side can relate to and understand.
Don’t take the position that you know everything. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers usually results in the other side being more receptive to your suggestions.
Take extreme stands only when they are apt to be advantageous. Before risking anything, be sure the potential benefit is worth the possible cost. There’s an old saying in the world of negotiation that recognized tactics aren’t tactics. Whether playing an ultimatum card will work will depend on the other side’s investment of time, money and effort up to the point where the ultimatum is put on the table. Accordingly, an ultimatum should come near the end of a negotiation, not at the beginning. The main point in using leverage is not to overuse it. It’s also rarely productive to make demands that you wouldn’t accept yourself; they may come back to haunt you later.
If the other side introduces a deal-breaker early in the negotiation, admit that it’s a problem, but delay discussing it in detail as long as you can. Don’t relieve the other side’s stress until you get something in return. This is an appropriate time to point out that silence can be a powerful tool. The other side will usually be uncomfortable with your silence and may reveal some things they wouldn’t have otherwise. Silence is pretty hard to rebut, so learn to master it.
Finally, know when to stop. When you have more to lose than you have to gain, it’s clearly time to put away the cards.