Going for the win-win scenario

When you were a kid you probably indulged in traditional tantrum techniques to get your own way - screaming, foot stamping, and dropping like a dead weight to the floor. As adults, we have to develop more subtle ways of achieving our ends. Editor Penny Cottee offers some tips to help you bring in that deal!

By Penny Cottee

*Preparation is the key

Never go into a negotiation unprepared – you’ll almost certainly lose. Make sure you set a formal meeting (rather than a brief chat in a corridor), and if the other party phones beforehand to try to start the ball rolling, don't let yourself be pushed into a discussion you're not ready for.

You need to be clear about what the aim is and what your objectives are. Objectives themselves need consideration - some you must achieve, some you intend to achieve, while others you would like to achieve. For each of your objectives you must also have a range of targets - so you'll need to know where you stand on each of these: your ideal target, your realistic target, and your fallback target.

Make sure you gen up on your sparring partner, too. Who will be involved in the negotiation, what are your weaknesses and strengths, and the other party's weaknesses and strengths? What assumptions are you making, and where are the gaps in your knowledge?

* Be clear about what you will accept

Before the meeting, list what you want, and your justifications. Think also about what you’ll give in exchange for your list of must-haves – the concessions or guarantees you may make in return. Consider the other party's point of view and prepare answers for any objections you foresee them putting forward. And, most important, set your ‘walk away’ position – the lowest offer you will accept. Never go below this!

* Questions, questions, questions…

Try a range of questions to get to the bottom of the issues on the table:

Closed questions: usually demand a Yes or No answer, and are useful for summarising facts.
Open questions: ask questions beginning with What, Why, When, Who, etc and you'll elicit more information than simply Yes or No replies.
Reflective questions: Find out about how the other party feels about the negotiating points, to check for possible conflict or areas of further discussion, eg, "You seem unhappy about this deadline?"
Hypothetical questions: Use these to probe other possiblities, or to unblock situations. "What if we agreed to accept the whole delivery in one load?"

* Keep your ears open!

Listen carefully to what’s being said – take notes if it helps. Listening actively is vital if you are to pick up not only on the words being used, but what the words are really saying, and also, what's not being said.

You can improve your active listening by putting your thoughts to the back of your mind, and focusing on what the other party is saying. Don't just listen to the words, but scan for the meaning behind the words - analyse the possible significance of what they are saying. For example, what sounds like a ‘no’ may actually be a ‘not yet’, which leaves the door open. Try also, not to think about what your answer will be, while they are speaking.

* Moving mountains

Take each point as it comes but don't expose your position too soon. When you do move your negotiating stance, do so in small steps. And of course, wherever possible, exchange things that are not costly to your firm, for things of value from the other party. Negotiation is like a game, where each of you works towards your ideal position, uncovering as much as you think you need to, to win your point - but no more. Don’t show yourself to be too quick to compromise, or you will lose ground fast. Use threats very carefully - and only ever on a business level! If you feel you need to introduce a threat, hint at it rather than being blatant. And never make a threat you can't carry out!

* Talking tactics

Skilled negotiators choose from a range of techniques to achieve the win-win scenario. These include:

Building Block Technique: start by asking the price for just a part of what you actually need, and then increase the possible order up to your actual needs. You'll usually get a better price than asking for the full amount straight away.

Silence: It's interesting to see how people react differently to silence. If you ask a question, and you don't like the answer, try sitting in silence. Many sellers, faced with silence, will leap to fill the vacuum and offer more.

Broken Record Technique: Simply repeat over and over the point you want to make. This technique works in many different scenarios.

* Get it in writing!

At the end of the meeting, summarise your negotiations verbally and then get it all in writing as soon as possible to avoid later disagreement. Always conduct negotiations in a business-like way, even if you have to ‘walk away’ because what you wanted is not being offered.

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