How to Win Every Negotiation (by Not Trying to Win)
As I originally published in Inc.: Despite what we often see in the movies, business negotiations should never be high-drama, zero-sum games. It’s not about somebody winning, somebody losing and everyone pounding the table.
Negotiation is not about getting as much as you can, as fast as you can. That kind of deal making will only lead to headaches and hurt feelings.
Instead, I’ve always found the most successful negotiations are those that are treated like conversations, or exercises in which both sides are solving a problem, with the eventual answer being one word: fair.
Think about it as if you are building a brand, a reputation that will last your whole career. Sealing a killer deal today might feel good, but it will label you as a hit man, not a hero. Who will want to negotiate with that person in the future? Think of the projects lost; the relationships never nurtured; the agreements built on shaky ground.
Adopting the following attitudes can help you negotiate successfully both for today as well as the long term:
Don’t hurt feelings. Over the course of a career, you’ll likely negotiate thousands of different matters large, small and in between. People don’t forget when they are treated badly, regardless of the size of the deal. Don’t feel obliged to make sure the other side wins big, but make sure they feel satisfied and respected at the end of the negotiation. If they leave the table feeling this way, what you will gain in future dealings with them will more than make up for whatever you may have given up at the time to make sure the deal was fair.
Empathize. Think about the other person’s interests in every negotiation. Not only does this convey respect, but it also leads to discussions where the other side is more open and less defensive. All of these aspects make it easier to achieve a win-win solution for both parties.
Price it out. Determine ahead of time what it will cost for the other side to get exactly what they desire out of the negotiation. Then let them decide if what they want is worth the price you’re asking for it. Strive always to reach a point where they feel satisfied with your description of their needs and fully understand why the price is what it is. That way they may concede to you on the price.
Build relationships. While negotiating, building a relationship with the other person can lead to other business, referrals, a better brand and stronger agreements. Always aim for two wins rather than one by creating value for both sides.
Be honest. Don’t try to psych out the other person by raising your economic or legal advantages, or by bluffing a willingness to walk away from the table. This behavior kicks off negotiations on a negative note and leaves both sides feeling defensive. Be direct but honest. Focus on mutually agreeable principles. As Lee Iacocca, the legendary former Chrysler leader, said: “Right up front, tell people what you are trying to accomplish and what you are willing to sacrifice to accomplish it.”
Listen more and talk less. Inquire about the other side’s views on the most common elements that you are negotiating, including price, terms, time frames, representations and warranties, and remedies. Understanding how these issues are interdependent can make for a mutually satisfying agreement. Most people will state what they expect to achieve in a negotiation if you ask the right way. These insights can help structure an accord. For instance, if the other person is concerned most with time frames, by agreeing to their terms in that area you might be able to set the price.
Pick whom you negotiate with, if possible. Find someone on the other side who seems reasonable and pragmatic. It’s not easy to negotiate over challenging issues with people who equate the process of creative problem solving with fighting. And you can’t come to an equitable, long-term agreement with those who are only seeking short-term gain. As my mentor, Trammell Crow, used to say, “You can’t do good business with bad people.”
By Joel Peterson