Say you’ve gone into a negotiation, confident you’d clinch the deal, only to find that you’ve been flat out rejected or worse – the potential prospect suddenly decides they don’t want to work with you at all. What went wrong?
Many people make the mistake of thinking that the best negotiation skills are through dominating or bullying someone into submission. If not, they make the mistake of being too submissive instead.
The result? A recipe for disaster. Hard-bargaining not only ruins deals but future business relationships as well. Being too submissive, on the other hand, incur more losses.
But whether we like it or not, everyone is a negotiator and has something to negotiate every day whether it be haggling over the price of a new car, persuading a toddler to eat his peas or convincing a client why they should choose your pitch. This skill is part of our lives and is inevitable – especially in business transactions and disputes.
There are many effective and different kinds of negotiation strategies and tactics but what makes one a great negotiator is the ability to combine these strategies to provide a win-win solution in the right place and at the right time. All in all, great negotiators are those who are hardworking, have good timing and have a little bit of luck on their side.
Hence, here are 20 tips that will help hone your negotiating skills so you stick out from the average Joes:
1. Plan ahead
According to experts, effective negotiation is 80% preparation. So if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Before every negotiation, it’s extremely important to come prepared with a plan and backup. A good plan consists of thorough research and homework of your opponent and their situation before hand.
This is because when you come in knowing your stuff, you’ll instantly sound much more confident – and that much more convincing. Doing otherwise will only make others take you less seriously and you may also not strike the best deal.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before a negotiation:
- What is my end goal?
- Are these the right questions to ask?
- What questions will my opponent ask?
- How do I answer my opponents?
2. Don’t be a pushover
How you sound, act or behave can determine what others will think of you – especially during first impressions. If you let others control your actions or easily give in to them, there is no way you can ever clinch a successful deal. To do so, you must come in confident and assertive yet not too aggressive at the same time. Not only will you convince the other party, you will also get the deal done on your terms.
Although not everyone is naturally confident, the first step is to look the part. A study found that 93% feel non-verbal communication affects their opinion of others. So be conscious of your gestures, your posture and how you hold your head.
3. Asking (the right) questions
Here’s an example: you want to buy the cheapest fish in the market. You ask all kinds of questions like how many shops sell this particular fish and which is the most expensive to the least. You even find out the name of the shop that sells the freshest fish. But, you did not ask the right question which was where you can buy the cheapest fish.
Although it’s good to ask as many questions as you can to gain insight, it’s much more important to ask the right ones. Asking the right questions not only saves you a lot of time, it provides you with the information you need first and foremost so you can negotiate much more effectively. Therefore, always prioritise and think of the questions that will benefit you the most. The other questions will provide bonus information.
4. Lay everything out
As Harvard Business School professor, Deepak Malhotra would say, “negotiate multiple interests simultaneously.”
In his book “Negotiating the Impossible”, it explains that by having several offers or issues laid out by you and your opponent, it makes it easier for negotiators to make wise tradeoffs. This means they can fight for what matters to them most while giving up what the other side values more.
Many of us make the mistake of negotiating one issue at a time which will often lead to everyone fighting hard for whatever that happens to be offered. This will less likely provide what everyone truly wants out of the deal.
Sometimes, negotiating deals can get a little too intense between you and the other party. So what can be done to help deescalate the situation? Showing positive facial expressions.
This is because your facial expression have the ability to influence your emotions and others around you as well.
One of the ways to show positive facial expressions is to smile. It naturally creates a higher frequency of sound in your mouth, changing the overall tone of your voice. And due to the human instinct of mirroring, it will also likely make others smile along with you which then improves the mood of everyone in general. However, it is important to smile genuinely. A forced smile will only end up making you look confused and frustrated.
6. Build bridges instead of walls
The most effective negotiators are professionals who know their business and don’t let personalities and irrational behavior interfere with their mission. While they know it is good to have power in a negotiation, they are also thinking long-term for their company. This means building a good relationship with their opponent and not straining it.
Building good relationships with other parties is essential especially if you are negotiating with them on a regular basis. This is because if the other party was threatened into submission, they probably will make it harder for you in the next negotiation or worse, stop negotiating with you again, possibly cutting off any future business.
7. Focus less on your limitations and more on your opponent’s
Focusing on your weaknesses or limitations too much will naturally make you believe your offer is less desirable than your opponent’s. This then makes you believe you are in a less powerful position which can affect your negotiating. Do not dwell on your limitations as your opponent will be able to sense your concerns and grab onto that weakness to their advantage.
Instead, focus on their’s instead. Asking the right questions and finding out what they’re trying to solve and why they need to solve them, will help you gain leverage in a negotiation. This is because gaining the upper hand when it comes to negotiating is about focusing on the pressures that your opponent face.
8. Know your opponents
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”
By further understanding your opponents better, the easier it is for you to know what their wants and needs are which puts you in a favourable position. To understand them better, always ask as many open-ended questions as possible to gather all the details you can about them.
So if you’re going to ask for something, take the time to find out what motivates that person. Then, make an offer that fuels their motivation. It is important to make them feel as if they are the ones being satisfied as it makes them much more open to giving you what you need.
But, if they still do not want to agree to your terms, don’t lash out and attack them. Instead, think what could possibly motivate the other party while you try to achieve your desired goal as well.
With that said, this does not mean that you give them everything they want – it’s about fulfilling what their basic requirements are while fulfilling yours. Make it a win-win situation.
9. Adapt to the situation
Many of us seem to have the misconception that being assertive, dominant and fearless will be sure fire way to help us clinch the deal. But in some cases, the key to a successful negotiation isn’t exactly about being dominant but rather about finding common ground.
Experts like Researcher Scott Wiltermuth explains this concept over at the Harvard Business Review where successful negotiations are more about finding a complementary relationship than it is about being assertive. This sometimes mean being submissive.
This is achieved when two parties reach dominance complementarity whereby one person in an interaction behaves differently from the other. This means if one negotiator acts submissive the other will act more dominant. Research shows that these individuals who achieve dominance complementarity reached better deals than pairs who are not. In short, this means learning when it is the right time to be aggressive and when not to to be.
10. Listen More than You Talk
“If I listen, I have the advantage, If I speak, others have it.”
Listening sounds simple but it takes effort, energy and patience to do so effectively. Many would be surprise of how impatient others can get while a person is speaking, cutting into their conversation before the speaker can finish.
One of the biggest misconceptions about negotiating is that people feel the need to ramble on and on. They tend to have this perception that more things get done if they talk more.
Instead, of talking more time, listen more instead – Studies prove that great negotiators are those who are able to uncover more needs of others than their less successful counterparts. This finding is important especially for sales people since they make their living by negotiating.
So listen. You can find out what the other party is looking to get out of the negotiations by letting them speak more. This in turn helps you gain insights of what the other party is willing to compromise and where their position stands – The more you know about their position, the clearer it is to for you to offer a deal they can’t resist.
Here’s a video about the power of listening by William Ury, one of the world’s best-known and most influential experts on negotiation:
11. Remain Calm in Dire Situations
It is vital to remain calm under stressful or pressurising situations during a negotiation. A good negotiator is one who does not combust and let their emotions get the better of them. They do not panic and are able to think clearly throughout the process, coming out of the negotiation successfully and unscarred. Bad negotiators on the other hand, end up missing opportunities and creating bad relationships with other prospects which makes it more disadvantageous for themselves.
One way to ensure you do not panic when the other party is pressing you is to always think positively, focus on your strengths and always remember what your end goal is.
Furthermore research shows we stand a greater chance of success if we focus more on our strengths. When under pressure, try to think of a positive situation, thought or outcome. This will help distract your brain from focusing on the negativity when things don’t seem to be going so well.
“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one. – Han Selye”
This is because thinking positively helps your brain to keep stress in the back of your mind. Just think about it, when you are happy or optimistic, do you ever feel stressed and anxious? Exactly, you don’t. This is because positive thinking shifts your attention to a “stress-free” zone in your brain.
Here’s a video explaining how we can turn our negative energy into something positive:
12. Learn to deal with negative behaviour
Humans are naturally emotionally-driven. But sometimes, letting your emotions get the better of you can end up destroying relationships and businesses. It is evident throughout history that ego and emotions have destroyed many corporations and businesses.The moment you lose your temper, you are in danger of creating bad ties with the prospect when dealing with them in the future or worse, losing them as prospect forever.
Instead, try to detach yourself from your emotions during the situation and focus on closing a deal – something much more rewarding and beneficial in the long run. It’s important to remember that negotiations aren’t personal attacks on a particular person, but rather they are just a form of business.
13. Do not rush a negotiation
One thing is for sure; no one likes to be rushed.
Here’s an example: Imagine being a customer, contemplating on whether you should buy a product and a salesperson is incessantly trying to rush you to the cashier to buy it. The same goes for negotiating.
Nothing will make you look more desperate than being in a constant rush to try and seal the deal. It’s great when a deal is closed quickly so you can reap the profits sown but it’s better to be patient.
Not only do you risk annoying the future prospect, you may also skip over the important points, which can incur losses on your end.
Furthermore, your managers or bosses will not be happy to hear you rushed to close a deal without covering all the necessary bases. Even if you are tight for time, make sure you cover every possible point and not miss out anything important.
14. Have a win-win mindset
The best outcome is when a solution satisfies both you and the other party. To see to it that there are no losers at the end of the deal. This is, undoubtedly, the most preferred negotiation anyone would love to be in.
And this is possible. But it means being willing to put differences aside so you can listen carefully to what both of you want. And then working together to find a win-win solution.
This win-win mindset will not only make you leave the room getting what you want, but it also helps deepen the bond between you and the other person.
This is because you’ve come to appreciate the courtesy and respect the other person has shown you – and likewise with them. If you’re lucky, they may want to work with you again as a future prospect in the long run.
15. Always make sure price is the last negotiation
Never negotiate the price until everything else has been negotiated. This is because money is mostly the only thing your company will ever receive from a buyer.
Furthermore, agreeing on the price first can put you in a disadvantageous position and at risk of a loss. This is especially so if the prospect starts negotiating other terms of the deal after the price has been established.
Ensure that you’re only negotiating the price when it’s the last thing standing between you and a deal.
16. Don’t give in too early
Resist the temptation to give in too quickly when someone asks for a concession. That person is not entitled to anything. And, you shouldn’t feel pressured to meet their needs either.
Giving in too early often results in the decrease of value of your product, solution or services. It may even be the permanent set expectation for future negotiations which can be disadvantageous for you in the long run. This brings us to our next point.
17. Always get something in return
It’s perfectly normal to give concessions in a negotiation from time to time. However, do it in moderation.
The biggest mistake people make is to constantly give something away without getting something in return. This will make your opponent feel entitled to these extra concessions. In the long run, it can make them feel dissatisfied during future negotiations since they’ll start to expect more.
Instead of giving in all the time, try getting something in return as well. Make them earn these concessions so they’ll appreciate everything you’ve given up to them. This is to ensure they do not take you for granted.
For example, if a prospect wants a discount on the price, make it conditional on a longer contract. Or, if a prospect wants something else thrown in with their purchase, make it conditional on signing a deal immediately.
The arrangement can be made in any way so long as you’re also getting something in return.
18. Be realistic
A study conducted by Forbes found that negotiators who do better than the average have high but realistic goals.
Great negotiators observe, calculate and rely on their gut feeling to get a good read on what might happen and what might not.
They also have a profound understanding of what’s in the field of play and what’s beyond, making them good decision makers. As a result, their trades, ideas and solutions are often a success.
19. Learn to walk away
Sometimes, we know a deal can’t be made and that’s okay. There’s no point wasting you and the other party’s time if both of you cannot settle.
However, many seem to have this misconception that they must clinch the deal which may backfire on them. For instance, if you constantly give large concessions just to get deals, you’ll only be incurring losses at your end.
In short, know when a deal is no longer attainable so you know when to stop. If a deal cannot be salvaged or does not benefit you, it’s okay to walk away. This can be challenging when sales are slow but remember that there will always be someone to sell to if you keep your pipeline full.
20. Practice, practice, practice!
This is the most important and most the underrated strategy. Without enough research on the topic, we can all agree that not many are able to sound convincing when negotiating. Well, the same goes for practicing.
Negotiating like any other skill, requires practice in order for an individual to be good at it. To improve, try to condition yourself to negotiate at every opportunity.
Not only will it help you become more attuned with negotiating, it also increases your success rate over time. In addition, you become much more confident and well-respected amongst your peers, customers and even opponents.
Summing it Up
Overall, negotiation is a mix of art and science. It takes a combination of street smarts, unwavering discipline and dedicated time spent on research, the thought process and execution.
Once you’ve mastered negotiating, the hard work will be worth it. It’ll help unlock your ability to get the best deal possible under any circumstances.
With that being said, negotiating does not have one format or structure that’s always the right answer. Instead, it’s about understanding how to convince your prospects with the tips provided in the right situation. So what method you use will determine whether you successfully clinch the deal.
And there you have it! Make full use of these 20 tips to help hone your negotiation skills. Leave a comment below if it worked for you!