5 tips to a successful negotiation

Negotiation is an unavoidable occurrence in life.  But, as JFK said, “let us never fear to negotiate.”  And he’s right – there’s nothing to fear about negotiation, especially with these tips:

Be Prepared

Go in to your negotiation with as much background knowledge as possible.  This means you have to do your research!  If you have a meeting with your boss about a raise, investigate what others in your position are earning in your company and in the market.  If you’re negotiating a sale price, know the market for that particular product and know how much others are selling it for.

Likewise, know what you’re bringing to the table.  Anticipate some of the more challenging issues that may arise and know how you’re going to handle them.  Practice tip: put yourself in the other side’s shoes. What would they want to know? What concerns might they have?

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Have a flexible bottom line

People sometimes use a “bottom line” to gauge when they are willing to walk away from a negotiation. The better practice is to use a flexible bottom line. Things can change during the negotiation – new facts pop up, new options are on the table, or you realize that the bottom line you established before is simply unrealistic. Being flexible enables you to consider all of the possibilities before deciding it’s time to walk away.

You should also know what you’re looking to get out of the negotiation (and why you deserve it – see #1).  But again, be open minded and don’t commit yourself to anything before you have all of the facts.

Choose an interest-based approach: ask questions & listen to the answers

There are two “types” of negotiation: distributive aka positional, and integrative aka interest-based.  Positional is a win-lose mentality – there is one pizza and we are splitting it.  Interest-based is a win-win mentality – there is one pizza and we are enlarging it.

People tend to engage in positional negotiation, especially if they are on opposite sides of an issue. However, using an interest-based approach increases the chance of success for both sides. (And who doesn’t want a bigger pizza?!)

The key in interest-based negotiation is identifying the other side’s interests.  The easiest way to do this is to simply ask, “Why?”

For example, two little girls are having a fight over an orange.  Both girls take the position that they want the whole orange.  If their mom cuts the orange in half and gives ½ to each little girl, she would be using a distributive approach.  But the mom decides to ask each little girl why she wants the whole orange.  Girl A tells the mom that she just loves oranges and she wants to eat it.  Girl B says she wants the orange peel to use in baking some cookies. The mom gives the whole orange to Girl A, Girl B gets the whole orange peel, and both girls are happy.

By simply asking the girls “why” they wanted the orange, the mom was able to ascertain each girl’s respective interests and realize that their interests did not conflict.

Engage in dialogue with the other side.  Actively listen to what they are saying; repeat and ask questions if necessary to truly understand their interests and their concerns.  Likewise, be transparent about your interests and concerns – but see the caveat in the next paragraph.

If the other side in your negotiation is being competitive and positional, don’t give in.  If they’re attacking your ideas or slinging insults left and right, resist the urge to counter attack.  Recast the attacks on you or your ideas as attacks on the issue.  Try using questions and strategic silence to figure out the other side’s underlying interests.  You can also bring in a third party to talk to each side separately and try to understand each side’s respective interests. If the other side is simply not willing to cooperate, not sharing any information, engaging in trickery, or otherwise being untrustworthy, be very careful about what information you choose to divulge and don’t lay your best cards on the table up front.

“Things can change mid-negotiation. Having a flexible bottom line is more important than a bottom line.

Brainstorm ideas without judgement

After you’ve figured out the other side’s interests, brainstorm ideas and encourage the other side to do the same.  Don’t immediately throw any of the ideas out.  Instead, after both sides have come up with every possible solution, go through each one and talk about why an idea is satisfactory or not satisfactory.  Use your flexible bottom line and your intentions to evaluate the ideas, but remember to be open minded.

Don’t lose your cool

Sometimes parties reach an impasse –  and that’s ok.  But don’t flip out on the other side and jeopardize all of the time and work you’ve put into this, and even worse, jeopardize your relationship with the other side.  Separate the people from the problem. Take a break and resume, if possible, when both parties have had time to cool off.  Always be gracious and take the high road.  Professionalism ensures a win-win in the long run.

This article originally appeared on Create & Cultivate. 

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