Every single relationship in your life entails some negotiation. True, it’s often linked to sales (or business), but that limited perspective ignores the fact that negotiation pervades all aspects of both professional and personal life. We all have encounters in which we seek to persuade someone to do something—or in which someone has to persuade us. And this is something we do every single day.
It starts at a young age, too—long before any formal training takes place. Remember standing in the grocery-store checkout lane when you were a kid and telling your mom that if she bought you a candy bar, you’d walk the dog every day? (Unfortunately, your mom remembered that you’d already promised to take Fido for a stroll each morning in return for getting him in the first place—and that you’d slacked on this responsibility. So that day, you didn’t get a candy bar and you experienced firsthand the pains of a failed negotiation.)
This never happened!
Thanks to life experience and schooling, you’ve probably improved your negotiation skills at least a little since then. A successful negotiation isn’t about getting what you want at all costs, however. Rather, it’s about engaging in a give-and-take with someone whose goals and agenda differ from yours, striving to reach a compromise that’s satisfactory to everyone involved.
This is the perspective espoused by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their famous book Getting to Say Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In. With its emphasis on finding mutually beneficial solutions to problems, it’s been a mainstay in business circles and discussions about negotiation since its publication in 1981.
You’ve surely heard the phrase “win-win situation.” Fisher and Ury’s book helped shape and spread this concept, and it’s one I consider a critical component of any successful negotiation. I firmly believe that every negotiation must be in the “win-win” category in order to be successful—otherwise, something (usually quality) gets sacrificed along the way.
Clearly, strong negotiation skills are critical to success in any business field. Junior staff usually get an initial taste of this when negotiating the salary and benefits for their first entry-level position with an organization. As people advance through the ranks of a company or industry, and move into more senior positions, they encounter plenty of opportunities for negotiation.
Attempting to get the best deal from a vendor? Trying to increase your team’s productivity? Pitching a new product to a client? In any of these situations, you’ll have to negotiate. Based on my backgrounds in both management and consulting, I have a few suggestions for improving your negotiation skills in your business relationships while keeping a “win-win” approach.
1) Do Your Homework
Whether you’re meeting with a potential client or considering a new vendor, always prepare in advance! Read through the company’s or individual’s website, look for common connections through LinkedIn, browse the Internet to find out everything you can about an organization—leave no stone unturned in your search for data. With so much readily available information (and so many ways to access it) there is no excuse for being unprepared.
Doing this research will help you understand the other party’s goals and motivations, which in turn can help you work toward an arrangement that benefits them as well as you by finding the “win-win” solution.
2) Remember to Focus on “We”—Not “You” or “I”
In any negotiation, be mindful of how you frame the conversation. You may want to close a particular deal because it will eventually put money in your pocket, but highlighting your personal financial gain will very likely alienate the other party. Rather than focus on the short-term benefits that only you will enjoy, present the negotiation as part of a mutually beneficial long-term business relationship.
Begin by listening to the other party’s needs. Even though you did your homework in advance, seize any opportunity to learn more during the in-person interaction. And don’t underestimate the value of this conversation in demonstrating that you care more about your relationship with the other party than about the single deal at stake. As Fisher and Ury recommend in Getting to Yes, focus on the people, not the problem (or transaction or situation).
If you catch yourself saying “I” a lot, remind yourself to talk about “we” instead. Point out the “win-win” elements of every negotiation.
3) Keep in Mind That Today’s “No” May Be Tomorrow’s “Yes”
Here’s a scenario you’ve surely experienced: you give a stellar presentation, both parties agree that they’d work very well together, and then the person on the other side of the table says, “Sorry, we just don’t have it in the budget right now” or “That isn’t quite what we’re looking for at the moment.”
Was this meeting a waste of your time? Of course not! The timing isn’t right for this deal today, but through this meeting you’ve just built a relationship. From this starting point, you may find some room to negotiate an arrangement that works for everyone. Maybe you can offer to let the client pay in installments, for example, or perhaps you can modify your original plan.
4) Always Check In
Regardless of a meeting’s outcome, always follow up with the participants. If they say “no” the first time, they may say “yes” the next time you ask. And if they do say “yes” the first time, then keep up that momentum so they say “yes” the second, third, and fourth times. Always focus on the long-term relationship—and always remember that it’s not about “me” but about “us.”
Even though you’re now a grown-up and can buy your own candy bars whenever you like, most of your life still requires negotiation. It may seem a daunting task, but don’t let it intimidate you. If you ditch the Machiavellian “I want get the best for me by any means necessary” approach that’s often (wrongly) associated with successful negotiation and instead keep the “win-win” goal in mind, you’ll be able to approach negotiations with less anxiety and more confidence—and more success!