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How to Negotiate With an Ace Negotiator

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From childhood you’ve used these skills to get what you want, but negotiation know-how can fizzle when you start to think more about your relative inexperience than about what you want and why. In business, you may feel out of your league negotiating with someone who horse-trades every day. It’s easy to feel intimidated when it’s time to talk compensation with a salesperson, or hire a sales director, or convince a banker of your loan worthiness, or hammer out a contract with a major vendor. If your negotiation skills need sharpening, read on for some tips from the pros.

Sharpen Your Mind. Practiced negotiators say that mental attitude is all-important. You need to be positive and pay attention. This may require some silent preparation or self-discipline. Margaret Neale, director of two Stanford Business School courses on negotiation, identifies two more elements related to minding your mind-set: Don’t cave too quickly (even if you think the price is fair, “always offer less—if only to make your opponent feel good about the deal”) and don’t gloat. “Gloating will only drive your opponent to extract the difference from you sometime in the future.” The tips are from an article on the Stanford Graduate School of Business site.1

Define Your Interests. David A. Wachtel, president of Hautacam Consulting Inc., also teaches negotiation techniques. He states in an article in The Negotiator Magazine2 that “the purpose of negotiating is seeing if you can get your interests met through an agreement. An interest is why you want something, not what you want [emphasis is in the original]. When negotiators begin working from the standpoint of interests, they can begin to work with the other party to explore alternative solutions.”

Rank Your Priorities. When you are selecting a vendor and negotiating a contract, both sides must feel that they are winning, because you are in fact entering into a partnership. Start by ranking your own priorities. Spend some time studying your list. What would you be comfortable giving up? Then imagine your vendor’s priorities. This will give you a sense of what areas will be most important in your negotiations before you even sit down to work out the actual contract.

Listen With All You’ve Got. Communication is 93 percent nonverbal, Wachtel reminds us. A good listener asks a lot of questions and pays attention to body language and tone of voice, as well as words.

Look for Silver Linings. Examining every offer for positives and then coming back with something you will trade for a concession on the other side is what negotiating is all about, said Neale in the Stanford Graduate School of Business article. “If I can trade off issues that I care about more and you care about less, then we’ve been able to create value in a transaction,” said Neale. “That’s the silver lining.”

Use Silence. Don’t race to fill every pause with talk. In fact, if you are involved in a negotiation that may be stressful to the other party, create pauses that may heighten anxiety. In so doing, the other party will likely give you something. The strategic pause can be a powerful tool in collection calls, for instance. “If we make a clear and uncompromising statement in response to something the debtor proposes, we need not elaborate just to relieve the conversational tension,” wrote D. Park Smith, who represents a collection agency, in an online article.3 “Literally a simple ‘no’ may be the best negotiating response, without a single additional word from you.”

Keep Your Focus. Roger Fisher and William L. Ury, who wrote the best-selling book Getting to Yes, laid out a method based on four principles:

  • Separate people from the problem,
  • Focus on interests, not positions,
  • Invent options for mutual gain,
  • Insist on using objective criteria.

Their book, published 30 years ago (and reissued in 1991), is still available in hardcover, paperback, and as an e-book. After all, the principles of successful negotiation are timeless.

For more information, visit:

1. “Negotiation Strategy: Six Common Pitfalls to Avoid

2. “Improving Your Negotiating Skills: Tips Learned in the Trenches

3. “Collections and Negotiating Skills

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