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Do You Have the Backbone to Negotiate Effectively?

Negotiating is a fundamental skill that you use virtually every day—far more than many people realize.

It plays a critical role both in the success of your career and your life outside of work. Every day you negotiate with your co-workers, with businesses, friends and family. For many, negotiating can seem confrontational, intimidating, and frankly a daunting task. My experience is that most people do not demonstrate the backbone to negotiate effectively—even though they would if they just knew what to do.

I’m going to show you what to do… by revealing 10 top practices of the most effective negotiators. Do you have the backbone to apply these practices? They are not in any priority order and are all important.

1. Be willing to walk away

When you begin the negotiation you should know the boundaries of an acceptable deal. If you are not sure of those limits then you are at risk of losing sight of the bigger picture of an acceptable outcome for you—what’s truly in your best interests. If it is clear that those limits will be breached, then be willing to walk away. When your counterpart realizes that you are determined to get a better deal, absent of which you have no hesitation to end the negotiation, the likelihood is high that your counterpart will work more creatively to satisfy at least your minimal acceptable requirements.

2. Make an aggressive first offer

According to authors Adam Grant and Adam Galinsky, in the book, Give and Take, research supports the strategy that people who make the first offer typically get a better deal closer to their target price. The first offer sets what’s called the “anchor price.” All succeeding offers use the anchor price as the point from which to negotiate.

Research also shows that the anchor price is often not aggressive enough. People are afraid to be too bold in the eyes of their counterpart and resist stronger first offers. Make your first position bold and aggressive. It’s possible you might even get it. Your counterpart can always counter offer and likely will negotiate the offer down. However, do your best to not set a ridiculous price. Doing so will cause the other party to doubt your seriousness. You want to be reasonable.

3. Use silence

Silence is a great negotiating tactic—a powerful weapon. Whether you are making an offer or receiving one, afterwards employ a pause—such as slowly counting to 10 but perhaps a much longer pause—to use silence to your advantage. This tactic not only can get the other party thinking more about your position but, for most people, silence during a negotiation feels awkward and they feel nervously compelled to say something. Before you know it, you likely have learned information that you otherwise would not have had—information helpful in your favor.

By the way, if the offer to you looks acceptable, there is still value in pausing before you accept it. Pausing helps your counterpart feel like they have squeezed out a good deal compared to you immediately accepting the offer.

4. Ask for more than what you want

Many people are embarrassed to ask for more than what they want. If you don’t ask, you will never get it. What could have been possible is only a thought rather than a reality. If you do ask, there is the possibility that you will get it. Top negotiators have no problem asking for the sky as long as the sky falls in the category of a possible and realistic outcome. They recognize that a huge mistake would be not asking. By not asking, you are passing up opportunities that will have affected your overall success.

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5. Show disappointment

When your counterpart makes an offer that you view not to be favorable, show your disappointment with a flinch or other small display of dissatisfaction. The objective is not only to present a reaction but to make your counterpart feel uncomfortable with their offer. This theatric can cause your counterpart to immediately make larger concessions in order to gain your visible approval.

On the flip side, if you like what you are hearing, you can reveal a small smile or configure your face to represent that you feel the negotiation is moving in an acceptable direction. Your counterpart will want to work hard to win your future show of approval.

6. Never feel rushed

Make time your friend. Patience is a virtue in the world of negotiating. You need time to convince others. If you have patience then exploit it. If you don’t, then acquire it. More often than not, your counterpart will reach a point when they are tiring and just want the negotiation to come to a speedy end. This is a point where your counterpart is willing to make concessions that otherwise appeared to be off the table. Your ability to outlast your counterpart can be a formidable advantage to reaching a more favorable outcome.

7. Invest in preparation

It has been said by many prominent negotiators that the most important element of a negotiation is preparation, preparation, preparation. When preparing for important negotiations, here are areas with which to focus: Brainstorm creative solutions that can satisfy both parties; Know what it is you want, what you are willing to concede and not willing to concede; Review past lessons learned from similar negotiations; Understand your counterpart and the issues that they are faced with; Consider engaging a negotiation coach; and Practice your performance, at the least, in your head but consider role playing with a trusted friend or colleague

Do not underestimate your counterpart—assume they have thoroughly prepared themselves for the negotiation.

8. Listen, ask questions and learn

Bobby Covic, author of Everything’s Negotiable!, said, “There’s a saying among negotiators that whoever talks the most during a negotiation loses.” Most people want to keep talking but good negotiators are more interested in asking questions and learning what their counterpart has to say. When you listen, your counterpart views you to be more sincere and approachable. Listening is an important step to building trust and respect.

Furthermore, negotiating should not be seen as a major conflict between two or more parties but instead as a process of discovery. You ask questions and listen. You probe and listen. You are gathering data that you can use to improve your position while learning about the other party’s strengths and weaknesses, their wants and needs. You listen to understand, not to focus on your next reply.

9. Keep your cool and maintain a positive mindset

The mindset that you initially bring to the negotiating table will be contagious to your counterpart. If you ask nicely and come across fair, most people will work harder at reaching a reasonable compromise. Negotiating is all about working with people. You want to establish a rapport, a bond of sorts. Begin the negotiation with a great attitude, confidence, enthusiasm and optimism. Turn potential opponents into allies.

Do not take things personally or make them personal while negotiating. Doing so can undermine trust, respect and interfere with maintaining a clear head. Resist yelling or verbally attacking your counterpart. Never knowingly say anything that is hurtful to your counterpart. You want to keep a pleasant and relaxed demeanor.

Remaining cool is not just about resisting a display of negative emotions about your counterpart, it’s also about not tipping your hand about your excitement regarding the item at the focus of the negotiation. Do not let your emotions betray your thoughts—maintain your best poker face. If your counterpart sees that you want the item being negotiated badly, then there can be little incentive for your counterpart to negotiate. Limit revealing your enthusiasm for the item; instead, unfavorably compare the item to other products or deals in an attempt to lower its value.

10. Go for a win-win

A win-win outcome is when both parties feel like they negotiated an acceptable deal, when their points of view have been satisfactorily considered and their respect for each other is likely on a high note. If these parties will ever negotiate again, both are likely to enter the negotiations with positive attitudes and a willingness to work well with each other. When you help your counterpart get what they want, you more likely will get what you want. You want to be fair and reasonable with your counterpart. For example, don’t expect them to give up something that does not give them an acceptable profit or allow them to save face.

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When you become a better negotiator and see that nearly everything in life is negotiable, it opens your possibilities for a more fulfilling life.

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