Formal negotiation intimidates a lot of men, but it’s a part of life so common that we do it without thinking. Whether you’re deciding where to go for dinner or brokering a million dollar deal, you’re negotiating. There are several things you can do to make formal negotiations less nerve wracking; once you begin to experience success, you will think very differently about negotiation’s purpose in your life.
Pre-Game Negotiation Planning
1. Do the Research
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
Before you enter into any negotiation, it’s a good idea to have as much information about the situation and person you’re dealing with as you possibly can. While it’s not always feasible to plan ahead, do so whenever you can. Know details about company policy when dealing with businesses, or personal track records when conducting a more intimate negotiation. This can prevent errors of judgment, which will put the dynamic on edge. Sun Tsu commented in The Art of War that the general who considered many variables and possible outcomes ahead of time invariably won.
Another part of planning ahead is knowing yourself. What precisely is your optimum outcome? What are you going after? How much ground are you willing to give before you withdraw from the field? You should clearly establish answers to these questions prior to any negotiation, and be ready to clearly and calmly ask for what you want.
Being direct doesn’t always mean being rude. In fact, if you are clear about what you need from your negotiation partner, especially when dealing with businesses, they will be more willing and able to help you. One excellent tactic for being clear without rudeness is to ask them to place themselves in your position, and then outline your problem.
First Impressions Matter
1. Body Language and Expression
Perhaps the most important aspect of negotiation is one that is never directly addressed and uses no words to communicate. When you prepare to negotiate, you should consider your posture and facial expression, which can tell the person you’re going to meet a lot about who you are, how much you value yourself, and what they can get away with. As you enter a room or place of business, square your shoulders, straighten your posture, and arrange your facial features into a pleasant expression.
You don’t have to grin, in fact that might prove counterproductive. What you should be communicating with these body cues is that you value yourself and your time; you are confident and assertive, while also pleasant and relaxed. People respond to these cues, whether they realize it or not, and so do you.
2. Human Connection
Even the most confident and assertive man is more likely to achieve his goal when he approaches a situation from a human angle. When you enter a business, engage with the individual who comes to greet you. Be friendly and make eye contact. Smile and use pleasant phrases to describe your mission. If they can’t help you, politely request to speak to someone who can. Make a point of letting them know you’re satisfied with their service and appreciative of their assistance, but your situation requires the attention of a superior. If you leave people with a pleasant impression of you, they are more likely to go the extra mile in order to help you.
Don’t fear human connection, it can be your most useful tool of negotiation. Make conversation that is not directly related to what you want, but does cover mutual interests. Casual chat like this is an established method of softening up your opponent in any negotiation, and leading them to be more favorably inclined toward you.
“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
3. The Soft Sell
When you meet the person you need to speak to, introduce yourself and shake their hand. When you address them, occasionally use their name. While it’s an incredibly simple touch, most people neglect to do it, and it will make a huge impression. Rather than making demands or blunt statements, try a softer approach. It isn’t that you’re being less direct, you just aren’t being blunt and devoid of charm.
When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.” ― Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power
You can do this in a very polite and pleasant way by making your questions open-ended. Rather than asking “Do you discount this item?” which meets with an immediate yes or no answer, ask “What is the discount for this?” Coupled with line-by-line approaches when dealing with a bill, you are almost guaranteed to obtain more perks than even you planned on.
Asking about alternative options, discounts, or dispensations from particular charges are excellent ways to obtain these results, because it never hurts to ask. While these are indirect questions, they are far from timid. The person you’re speaking with knows that they are dealing with a confident, aware human being, and they will respond accordingly.
3. The Art Of The Close
Now, if you happen to be on the sales side and are attempting to close a sale, the biggest hurdle you’ll face with negotiations is “the art of the close”. For many salesmen, they believe the meet and greet, production demonstration and selection, is the “start” of doing business. However the reality is, business doesn’t truly begin until the customer first exclaims the word “No”.
When a customer expresses their dislike or disagreement, you’re presented with the real challenge of doing business. Anyone can sell something, given they understand the concept of selling the dream and not the product, but it’s a different story when it comes to closing. Most will consider their efforts fruitless the moment the customer mutters the word “No”, and assume it’s the customer’s final decision. They’ll rearrange their numbers, cover the product’s features again, and attempt to apply pressure until the customer is mentally frustrated and fatigued. In most cases, this does not work, unless of course you stumble upon some luck.
To successfully know how to negotiate and close a deal, you must be willing to present new information. Your goal becomes changing the customer’s mind, and to do so you have to make them reconsider their initial reaction. Perhaps their monthly payment on a new vehicle is too high, so you explain there’s a college graduate program that can save them an additional $100 per month. Of course, you didn’t mention this before, but now that you have presented new information, it opens up a world of new opportunities. It gives the customer a reason to reconsider and reevaluate the final reasoning without making them look bad.
People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons. – Zig Ziglar
Your customers will walk away, regardless of how attractive the deal is, if you end up putting them in a position where they feel “wrong”. Remember that pride and comfort takes the forefront of any negotiation process. Most may believe it comes down to price, however at the core, if the customer is uncomfortable it’s going to be impossibly tough to close the deal. You cannot sell them the “dream” if they are not comfortable living or buying into it. Instead continually present new information to get around these sometimes unforeseen obstacles, as you cannot read the customer’s mind. As you intrigue their interests and accommodate their needs, you will eventually make them believe they had been wrong to say no all along.
4. Active Listening
A very useful effect of making an actual human connection, in which you participate in an exchange also known as the creation of empathy, is the ways in which it sets you up for a win-win situation. Because most businesses want to keep your custom, and because you’ve been so awesome thus far, they’re likely to grant you more than you expected. Another way to encourage your opponent to yield ground is silence. This is a tool that can be used in a number of ways, and you should use them all.
Actively listen. When your conversation partner is speaking, make eye contact and react with facial expressions appropriate to their statements. Most people don’t listen; they simply wait to talk. If you actually absorb the communication and respond, you can increase your impact. As well, silence should always follow a question you ask. Don’t clutter it up with chatter. Let it stretch out until they answer you.
1. Get it Right and in Writing
Ask every question you can think of and don’t leave until you have answers that are complete. If you successfully navigate a negotiation, be certain to get it in writing. It isn’t official otherwise. If you didn’t get what you were after or spoke to the wrong person, don’t be shy about returning another day. That is, if you have treated everyone with respect, you haven’t burned your bridges. Always remember not to take it personally, because one negotiation won’t make or break you.
So, try your hand at learning how to negotiate like a master and practice it in person. You’re likely better at it than you realize. And, should nerves get the better of you, remember something else Sun Tsu said:
“Excellence lies in subduing your enemy without fighting.”
Strength of purpose and good planning will, with practice, pay off tremendously.