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This blog has a mighty ambition: to create peace, happiness and goodwill to all humankind on Earth. Is it a secret recipe for inner personal calm and a stress-free life? Sort of – but in case you think we have gone dippy hippy and you are about to stop reading, give us another minute.

This is a blog to help you negotiate more effectively, because if everyone could negotiate better, we’d have less conflict, more harmony and greater happiness in the world. We would waste less time, reduce personal stress and have healthier lives. Negotiation really is the secret of life, the universe and everything. If you don’t believe us, think back to last night when you were locked in mortal combat with your child about doing his homework. Or to that meeting last week when tempers were fraying and it was getting pretty personal when you were discussing why there had been no progress on that IT project and blame was flying around the room.

“Negotiation really is the secret of life, the universe and everything.”
The opportunity to negotiate is with us tens of times a day. Most of us do not identify these opportunities as potential negotiations, just as unpleasant arguments with our children, our partner, our colleagues, our clients. That is because most of us have never been trained as negotiators. We are amateurs so instead of bringing our negotiating resourcefulness to bear on the situation, we lapse into the familiar: we try to persuade, plead, browbeat, bully, bargain, compromise, sell, re-sell, convince the other party of the rightness of our position. We usually fail and everyone goes away with a sore head and a raised heartbeat.

This is not news: most people think they are terrible negotiators. They are. Some people think they are brilliant negotiators. They aren’t. Whichever one you think you are, have a look at the picture above and choose the cartoon which most closely matches how you feel when you have to negotiate. It probably isn’t a very flattering picture. This brief guide will try to re-frame how you view negotiation and yourself as a negotiator. Let’s make a happier world, eh?

To make a happier world, first we must change our attitude to negotiating.

“Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”
Negotiation is not a hard skill to acquire – we just get scared sometimes because it might mean disagreeing with another person and for many of us, in polite society in general and in client service in particular, that can feel awkward and uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with other people – it is not the end of the world. We both probably want the same outcome – we both normally mean well. Think well of the other party – this is just an adult level conversation to try and get both parties nearer to what they would like to happen. Both parties are equals – you are not on bended knee before your client, they have no right to be rude, dismissive or bullying. Walk in and look them in the eye – you are peers, no one has the upper hand. Or, as JFK put it: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate”.

Professional negotiators love negotiating with other professional negotiators because they know they won’t have to waste time and effort posturing, emoting, getting angry and upset or trying to persuade the other party that their view is the right view. Instead, two professional negotiators can proceed to create a deal and walk away serene, calm and happy.

Ready? Here’s how to be a pro.

1. Negotiating is just using a process to move towards agreement with another person or group of people. It is not some God given skill available only to a few. Take the right steps and you will learn the negotiation dance.

2. Before you go in and negotiate, ask yourself: am I ready? Am I as prepared as I need to be? You need to get into the right mental and physical state: people are more likely to make concessions to you if you are open, warm, flexible and polite. As the saying goes: you will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And you need to be well oxygenated, calm and controlling your adrenalin so it works for you and not against you. You also need to be prepared. Do you have command of the facts? Have you made assumptions which are accurate? Do you know what your goal is – specifically? Do you know what you are prepared to concede and where you are not prepared to compromise? Have you considered the issue from the other person’s point of view? If it’s an important negotiation to you, doesn’t it merit a little more attention and planning to ensure a better result? And isn’t it less stressful to be nice than to be a dick? If the other person wants to behave like that, that’s his lookout. It’s just a ploy – recognise it as such and keep the high ground.

3. Don’t complain, propose. Most negotiations never get off the ground because both parties are too busy complaining about the other side, defending a position or determined not to give away their hand. Complaining and moaning or defending a position just mean you go round and round in a circle of acrimony. The conversation can only move forward if someone makes a proposal. Most people want the other person to make the first move because they are scared that if they make the first move they will get it wrong and give away too much. Have the confidence to make the first proposal. If the other person has a specific grievance, ask them to make the first proposal. Proposing has power in it, and giving others that power should only be done rarely.

4. Never interrupt a proposal. If you interrupt, you will only hear part of the proposal, your response will be inaccurate and the other person will know you did not listen to her. Shut up and listen until the other person has finished her proposition. Take a moment to be quiet and reflect on it – don’t immediately leap in with a counterpoint or a reason why you cannot do what she asks. Take time to consider what she has said and, just as importantly, look like you are considering what she has said. This type of behaviour keeps you and the situation nice and calm. You want to be calm. You need to be calm. Negotiating is better when things are calm.

5. Use silence – it is a powerful tool. Many people cannot stand silence; they jump in to fill it with words, and in doing so they will often let their mouth run away with them and concede things. When you have finished making your proposal, be quiet. Let the other person do the work.

6. Move in small steps. If you are going to make concessions – and you will have to – make them in small steps. Time and again we see people go from one extreme position to another. They move from feast to famine in the blink of an eye. “We normally charge £100 for this, but as you are a new customer/ an old customer/ a friend/ have been referred by a friend/ you look nice etc. (take your pick), we will do it for £20.” That isn’t negotiation. That is capitulation. It is very dangerous – you start to sound incredible, as if the £100 was nonsense all along and you are desperate for the business. No. If you are going to give, you do so very gently. So £100 becomes £93.50 (make it look like it has been calculated – round numbers look slap dash).

7. If you give, you must get. In negotiations, you do not give stuff away for free or unilaterally. If you concede something, it must be contingent on getting something in return. The best way to phrase this is: “If you do x then I will do y”. Make your concession contingent on their behaviour. For example: “If you pay us immediately then we will give you a 4.5% discount”.

8. Use language precisely. Untrained negotiators don’t listen very carefully to the language being used by the other person nor do they use words with care when they speak. Trained negotiators listen for every nuance and drop clues with the words they use. For example, if the person you are negotiating with says “this is the situation at the moment” that means the situation may change. It sends a message that in the future, things may change, which might mean you just have to wait for a while. If they say “We understand your point of view” that does not mean they agree with your point of view. So many negotiations are scuppered because of misunderstanding the meaning of what is being said. You need to listen out for clues (and pepper your own language with clues too): use words such as “suppose we were to do this…or that…” and ask questions such as “under what circumstances might it be possible for you to do what we ask?”. These enquiring, hypothetical questions keep options open. They keep possibility on the table. And when you are negotiating you need to explore possibilities and keep as many options open as you can.

9. Stay warm, flexible and decisive. Bend like the willow – stay supple not rigid, smile don’t scowl but stay decisive and firm. Being decisive means you have authority and builds a reputation that you can be trusted.

10. Write it down. If you have reached what you think is an agreement, write it down and share it with the other person – so many negotiations fail because they are left verbal and therefore open to interpretation and people’s fallible memories. Then sit back and think what worked well and what didn’t work so well so that next time you will be better.

Negotiating can be summed up as give them what they want on terms acceptable to you. These ten steps work. Do try them and see if you get more peace and harmony in your work life. (They also work in your home life.) Deal?


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David Kean
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