1: Start High.
Yes, that’s the first rule of negotiation. It is also the one rule which most people fail to understand, or exercise properly. Always, initially, ask for more than you think you might get. ALWAYS. You establish yourself as someone with high expectations, and allow yourself far more bargaining chips to give away, if necessary. Never start where you imagine you want to end up; you might actually get what you initially ask for. Many good negotiators have “lucked” into everything from free first-class upgrades, to massively increased compensation packages — simply by setting the bar high, right from the start.
2: Negotiate from a Position of Strength.
Even if this deal means you do, or do not, eat next week, never let the other side know it. Stay calm and almost disinterested; lean back and look slightly down your nose. Even if the other party thinks he knows he has you over a barrel, there is no sense in confirming that by your actions. Showing anxiety by twitching or tapping; showing you’re nervous by touching your face; talking too fast or too much… These are all signs that your position is weak, or that you are needy. Even an unskilled negotiator will get concessions out of you which might never have happened, had you just remained calm. There is Power in stillness. There is Strength in holding someone’s gaze until he look away. Maintain control of yourself, and you will maintain control of the negotiations.
3: Don’t Ask. Tell.
This one is subtle, and takes a lot more effort to pull off than you might think. Always speak in definitive sentences, if at all possible. During the rapport building phase, he who asks the questions “guides and controls” the conversation. Open-ended questions are fine for establishing rapport or ensuring clarity – restating what the other person has said so you are both sure you understood him correctly – for instance. However, during the actual negotiation process, phrase your requests in the form of statements. Most people are good at taking directions and will not see you as suddenly bossy or arrogant, if you have already communicated value and established a working rapport. “Will you please sign here?” is far better communicated with a simple “sign here.” There is one exception to this rule, which I will go over shortly. Remember, you are not a supplicant, you are an equal. Equals do not beg or wheedle during a negotiation. Once the actual negotiations start, state your goals clearly, succinctly and definitively. “I want this, for which I will give you that.” Let the other person speak in terms of questions and requests. Psychologically speaking, statements come from power, while requests come from weakness.
4: Always Speak in Positive Terms.
When you state your goals and desired outcomes – particularly during negotiation – make them into positive results to achieve, not negative concepts to avoid. Statements like “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to quit smoking,” or “I want to stop procrastinating” are totally ineffective. Losing, Quitting and Stopping are hardly what anyone would call Action words. They are damnably hard to put into practice, too. Instead try “I want to look sexier in pants, taste my food, have fresh smelling clothes and get more done in my day.” You should also be specific. Saying “I want more money” is too nebulous. If someone gives you a dollar, you will now have “more” money, even though that is probably not what you had in mind.
5: He who Speaks First, LOSES.
Part 1: Every time you make an offer or a counter offer, say it clearly and then shut up! If the other person sits quietly for 15 minutes after you speak, let him. The moment you open your mouth after having made an offer or counter-offer – no matter what you say – you’ve let the other person off the hook about making a decision. Once you have made your offer and stated your case, all the tension and pressure is on the other side of the table. Not yours. Even if it is killing you inside, hold your tongue until the other party speaks.
Part 2: In all things, at all times, as much as feasible, let the other guy speak first; especially in a negotiation or a debate. While you are establishing rapport or just making friendly talk, that rule can be a little less “hard and fast.” If you are better at conversations than the other person, it is quite alright to ask leading questions for which there is no simple yes/no answer. Then, once the rubber meets the road and the exchange is about to be discussed in earnest, be gracious and allow the other party have their say first. Seriously. If you are the “seller,” the price is clearly marked and the buyer needs to either pay that, or open with what they would pay. If you are the “buyer,” the seller needs to climb down off that cloud and tell you what they would take. If you are the “mediator,” you need to know what both sides want to gain, so you can render a fair and impartial ruling.
6: Be Aware!
Pay attention to the other party’s body language and tone, not just the words they are speaking. The more nervous and twitchy they are, the less you’re going to have to give up to get what you want. It is also critical that you do your best to determine if you are speaking to the actual decision maker, or just an intermediary. There is little in life more frustrating than to work out terms to your mutual satisfaction with someone who cannot complete the transaction. Sometimes, the decision maker is the guy quietly sitting off to the side, while other times, he might not even in the same room with you. If at all possible, find out who the decision maker really is before you enter into any negotiation, then deal directly with that person. You also need to be aware that verbal agreements do not a contract make. Get it in writing. Get it signed. Oh… You also need to read it. ALL of it. Every tiny bit of boilerplate down to sub-clause paragraph Z. If you don’t understand it all, take comfort knowing that America has many lawyers. If the deal you have just struck won’t survive your attorney’s perusal some time tomorrow, that should be your cue to leave right now.
7: “Is That the Best You Can Do?”
Buyer, Seller or Mediator, no matter what role you find yourself playing during a negotiation, that specific question – spoken at the very end, when you feel you have gotten all you can – will get you a little more; or at the very least, lock the whole thing down. As the Buyer, you’re testing to see if there are any more discounts or freebies left; the seller does not know if not meeting that request will send you off without buying. As the Seller, you’re leaving the table open for one last bump, because the buyer doesn’t know if he’s really offered enough to actually own the widget he so deeply desires. If the buyer says yes, you’ve locked up the offer and they have mentally taken ownership. As the Mediator, you’re implying that one side or the other still hasn’t met your definition of “fair,” so you might give more concessions to the other party. Negotiation is always about perception, and that question sets the table for exactly the perception you want to communicate, every time.
Editorial by Ben Gaul