“I have been running a fairly successful business for some time now, but I know I can do better. The problem is that I don’t like to negotiate – I end up giving up way too much because I find the process so unpleasant. Do you have any tips that will make me a more successful negotiator without becoming an S.O.B.?”
Negotiating is one of the three most important business skills (the others are selling and accounting). Show me a good negotiator, and I’ll show you (usually) a successful businessperson.
A lot of people don’t like the negotiation process – when was the last time you truly enjoyed haggling with a used-car dealer? But that’s because you don’t realize what negotiation really is. Negotiation is NOT a search for the “perfect deal”, because there is no such thing. Negotiation is NOT an argument or fight – although to hear an intense negotiation under way between two equally passionate business people you might easily mistake it for one.
What negotiation IS . . . is a game. That’s all. Just like chess, checkers or baseball – two individuals or teams match up against each other, and the player or team with the better brains, spirit and luck walks away the winner.
And not just ANY game, but a very specific one – poker. Show me a good poker player, and I’ll show you a good negotiator. Why? Because, like a negotiation, a poker game takes place on two levels: the actual and the psychological. When the players are dealt cards in a poker game, they are holding “hands”, and some hands are stronger than others. That’s the actual game – who has the better cards.
But poker is also a psychological game. Because the players cannot see the other players’ cards, they try to “bluff” the others into thinking that their hands are stronger or weaker than they actually are. Very often, the victory in a poker game goes not to the player with the strongest hand, but to the player who persuaded the others that he had the strongest hand (or that the others had weaker hands). Just like a business negotiation . . .
Here are four universal rules that, if followed closely, will make you a better negotiator.
Rule # 1: Never Want the Deal Too Badly. You never can get a bargain on something you really, really want. Once the other side sees you are desperate to have something, they will make sure you pay top dollar for it. In any negotiation, the loser is always the player who needs the deal more than the other player does. Your goal in any negotiation is to persuade the other guy that he needs the deal more than you do, and that you are prepared to walk away from the table at any time and look for better deals.
Rule # 2: Never Give Up Something Without Getting Something in Return. Never agree to something, even something you don’t care much about, without getting something from the other side in return. You may be tempted to give up something because you want to appear proactive, friendly or nice. But negotiators are funny people – whenever you do that, they don’t see it the same way you do. Instead, they think you are weak, or that you need the deal more than they do. So they start bargaining harder by asking for even more “freebies” from you. Before someone will negotiate fairly with you, they must respect you – and they won’t respect you if you make it too easy for them.
Rule # 3: Never Agree to Something That Doesn’t Make Sense. Never get so caught up in the momentum of getting a deal done that you forget why you are doing the deal in the first place. If the other side asks you to give up something that will make the deal no longer worthwhile to you, tell them so – and offer up a compromise that will give you what you need while addressing the other side’s (legitimate) concern.
Rule # 4: Know When to Stop Negotiating. Like any game, negotiations don’t go on forever. The longer it takes to get a deal done, the more likely it is that the deal will never happen. At some point, the benefits to be gained by haggling over small points are outweighed by the negatives – when that point has been reached, and you’ve got a good deal you can live with, don’t try to “gild the lily”. Get the deal done, and move on.
Want to become a better negotiator? Here’s how:
Get the all-time classic book “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury, and memorize every word;
Go to antiques shows and flea markets, look for items you don’t really want, and offer the seller 50% or less of the sticker price – if they don’t accept or sharply reduce their price, walk away – if they accept, buy it and sell it later on eBay;
Go to Las Vegas and learn how to play poker – you might even be able to deduct it as a business trip.
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2021 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.