I’m never thrilled to negotiate. In fact, I do everything I can to not negotiate. In a minute I’ll tell you about a negotiation I’m in right now and I’ll walk you through what result I want, and I think it will surprise you.
You negotiate a lot more often than you might think. You probably get taken advantage of most of the time.
And if you negotiate a great deal, give me a page to catch everyone up.
I prefer to let people come to their own best conclusions and then decide.
But sometimes negotiation is life survival critical. Sometimes a negotiation is about navigating a relationship that is worth keeping and sailing.
Sometimes the other person simply can’t be allowed to “win” the negotiation.
Example? Your spouse or child is falsely accused of a crime they didn’t commit. If you lose the court case, they go to jail for 10 years. If you win, they are set free.
Sometimes you damn well better win.
In debate in both high school and college, you learn the skills of finding evidence to support a proposition and refuting positions of your opponent. In debate, your goal is only to win. Because it is your team of two against the other team of two and then it’s a football game. I was a very passionate and emotional debater that was paired with a Big Bang Theory level brain child. We played to win and did pretty well in high school. We didn’t win State…I don’t think. But we got to State….I have a feeling we didn’t win State because of my emotionality. Win/Lose by the rules.
Of course, debate is a competition, but it’s an example that reminds us that not every single negotiation will end up Win/Win or No Deal.
Over the course of this series of articles you’ll read about all the different kind of possible outcomes, the basic approach to negotiation, and then some of my closely guarded negotiation tactics. Because negotiation can sting…
My first principle in writing about negotiation is for you to ethically deal with the people you’ll be dealing with.
My second principle is to teach you to win.
And sometimes it’s critical that you gain significantly in the negotiation.
OK, here’s one of my current real life negotiations. Everyone knows that I have negotiated with Best Buy and Dish TV. I haven’t done business with either for a decade because they both ripped off people I loved AFTER I negotiated in good faith.
Right now I’m in the midst of a negotiation with a hotel that I’ve done business with for over a decade.
Strategic planning for negotiation …
I like to do right by this hotel. I play cards at this hotel’s casino. I have VIP status with the casino but in the meeting planning departments, I’m just another customer. But still, I LIKE this place. I like MOST of the people I work with there.
The ongoing negotiation revolves around a very small amount of money but a very important principle: I don’t steal ANYONE else’s money. Don’t steal mine. No exceptions. None.
But this week the hotel dropped me a note saying they hit my credit card with $1,119.50 for “extra services rendered by the catering department.”
A. Baloney. I paid for everything in advance and actually overpaid by about $1000.
B. That’s one of those precise numbers that doesn’t sound “made up,” and in fact sounds credible. (See ‘Be Precise’ in Psychology of Persuasion.)
When it comes to math, money and numbers, I have a very, very good memory and a better calculator. I wrote Susan and told her that she needed to remove the charge for $1,119.50.
I explained that the hotel was actually in to me about $1,000 and that I didn’t come begging for the $1000 extra I paid in advance and now want it back as a refund. Overall the event I had with the hotel was excellent, the staff was great and we had a lot of fun.
And for that I pay a great deal.
Susan wrote back and told me she couldn’t refund my money. I figured she was either 18, lying or simply hadn’t researched my relationship with the hotel.
I hate confrontation as much as you do.
So I wrote back, and I said, “Please Susan, please remove the charge from my card. You don’t have my authorization. What you did is not legal and in fact your employer actually owes me.” (Then I explained how/why.)
I hate being a jerk or being placed in a position of confrontation when none needs to exist beyond Susan’s department wishing to collect money from anywhere they can to add to the bottom line. I certainly comprehend WHY, but I don’t LIKE it one bit.
She didn’t write back, perhaps thinking that because I had no further correspondence that I would go away and pay the bogus bill without further “dispute.”
Over the course of the articles I’ll let you know each step that happens in real time and what and why it happened.
Just because I’m in the right doesn’t mean I’ll win. I’ve done negotiations and no matter how good you are, you can still lose.
But YOU can win MOST of the time. And most of the time, you can do so elegantly without taking anything away from anyone else that they are entitled to.
Now, what about you?
What about you? Negotiation strategies for you …
- You and your friends are trying to decide where to go for your big night out. Their restaurant of choice doesn’t sit well with you, just thinking about it, but you don’t want to be a whiner and put your foot down. You need to sway them… gently.
- Your teenager wants her own car, a later curfew, and a wardrobe rivaling Lady Gaga’s. You need to persuade her… diplomatically.
- Your cell phone bill was twice what you expected because you hadn’t realized you were being charged per text. You want the rep to credit you and reduce your bill. You need to persuade him… convincingly.
- Your boss wants you to travel to Cleveland next week to visit a client. You have critical personal plans. You need to change her mind… quickly.
You and I are involved in dozens of interactions on a daily basis in our personal and work lives, many of which involve some sort of transaction.
- Getting a room upgrade at your favorite hotel.
- Getting a manager to extend the deadline on a work project.
- Getting a sales clerk to extend the warranty on your out-of-warranty refrigerator that just died.
- Getting your neighbor to stop parking in front of your house.
- Getting the neighbor to fix the sump pump that they have draining in YOUR yard.
- Getting a client to take a more value based price.
When faced with these types of interactions, skilled negotiators don’t generally simply “come out on top,” they elicit a win-win scenario that leaves everyone feeling that “right” was done by them if possible.
It’s not always possible, but all things being equal, that’s what I want. And when it comes down to it, so do you.
The next five sections will introduce you to the basics of successful negotiation. Then, we’ll look at some of the more advanced techniques.
It’s not a difficult process, but each principle is an important one. Let’s take it step by step, starting with:
Step One: Know Your Outcomes.
There’s a famous exchange from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” where Alice asks the Cheshire Cat an important question and gets a life lesson in return:
“Cheshire-Puss,” she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Everyone would do well to take this advice to heart when thinking about negotiation.
If you don’t know what you want, it’s impossible to know when you’ve been successful.
Before you enter into any exchange, you need to know what you want, specifically. And you need to know what’s critical (as in, a “must-have”), and what’s not. In other words, you MUST know what your LEAST ACCEPTABLE RESULT is.
Steps to a successful negotiation process …
In discussions with your 14 year-old daughter about curfew, you may be a bit flexible on the time (11:30 versus 12 midnight), but it’s an absolute requirement that you or another adult do the driving, not the just turned 16 kid who might or might not be using.
Knowing what’s critical to your least acceptable result and what isn’t allows you some leeway to make concessions to the other person without feeling like you’re giving away the store. It also protects against making an agreement that isn’t in your best interest.
Remember, just because the daughter doesn’t want to be driven home by the adult doesn’t mean you have to budge one iota on this critical point. Some parts of a negotiation aren’t negotiable.
In the heat of the moment, there’s a tendency to react emotionally rather than rationally. Perhaps you back down because you don’t want to upset someone else, or maybe you hold your ground because you feel threatened. Deciding beforehand – and sticking to it – protects against these emotional reactions.
If you find yourself in a negotiation before you know what’s happening, remember that you can always take a minute to gather your thoughts or ask to delay the decision. We can feel pushed into a corner, like we have no choice but to respond, but that’s rarely the case.
There is NOTHING wrong and EVERYTHING right with taking five minutes to clear the head, assess and return.
Try saying, “Let me call you back in five minutes,” or “I’m not sure – I need to check my schedule/give this more thought/check with my spouse.”
If the person you’re in discussions with doesn’t want to let you take the time to think things through, that’s a strong signal that you’re dealing with someone who does not have your best interests at heart. You may want to avoid dealing with them altogether.
The biggest mistakes in negotiating come from responding emotionally rather than logically. Take the time beforehand to ask yourself your true desires before you get wrapped up in a discussion when you’re not even sure what you really want.
Step Two: Choose the Right Time
If you’re a parent, you know that kids seem to have a knack for choosing inopportune times to ask you for all kinds of things – usually when you’re on the phone!
If they only knew that the chance of them getting what they’re asking for would increase dramatically if they just asked at the right time.
I’ve made this mistake over the years. Everyone does. Sometimes you have no idea what the right time actually is. But here are a few things to remember.
People tend to pick times that are convenient for themselves, or when they think of it, rather than picking a time that can work.
So WHEN do you ask?
What to consider when plotting a time to negotiate …
1. When no one is rushed. Some negotiation experts suggest catching your party off-guard, so as to increase your personal leverage. Surprise attacks work great in water balloon fights, but that’s not what we’re going for here. But since you’re generally looking for a win-win that everyone will feel good about, pick a time when everyone’s comfortable and ready.
This may require putting off discussions for a few days or even weeks, which can be uncomfortable. If you’re the type who likes to resolve things immediately, remind yourself that you can use the time to brainstorm creative solutions and otherwise prepare for the discussion.
2. When you’ve done your homework. As suggested in the previous principle, you should know your desired outcome before you begin negotiations. Otherwise, you are at a disadvantage and could end up making poor decisions.
What you may think is the real issue may turn out to be a side point that you’d willingly concede in favor of what your most important outcome is.
3. When something can still be done about the issue. Negotiating with your neighbor about not cutting down the tree on your shared property line isn’t going to do much good if the chainsaw has already bitten into the trunk. Talk about issues before they come to a head.
4. When everyone is calm. The tendency may be to jump into the fray with both feet when conflict arises, but that’s rarely productive. The best negotiations take place when all parties are calm and can respond unemotionally.
If anyone starts feeling too overwhelmed, defensive, or distraught during the discussion, take ten and return to the conversation when emotions have cooled.
5. When you’re ready to make some changes. With most negotiations, one or both parties will be required to make some changes in behavior : coming home earlier, giving up something (money, time, resources), etc. If you are just not ready to abide by the terms of the decision, whatever it may be, it might not be a good time to have that particular discussion.
There are other biological factors that play into when to negotiate.
You don’t want to catch people when they are exhausted or in a bad mood. Emotions make for lousy decisions.
a) Catch people early in the week. They have higher self regulation unit counts and so do you.
b) Propose ideas early in the day when they still have high self regulation unit counts.
c) Negotiate when they are most full. This could be full of food, full of love, full of money or full of something that makes them feel good. People who are hungry fight much more intensely.
After you’ve done your background homework and selected an appropriate time to have your conversation, you’ll find that things flow much more smoothly for everyone.
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