Get Better At Negotiation

Do you like to negotiate?  Often the answer to this question is a resounding "no".  However, when I ask people if they enjoy buying things on sale or at a discount, they inevitably answer "yes".  So people in general like to get a good deal, but they aren't willing to...what....ask for one?

It seems to me that there is a lot of assumptions and preconceived notions about negotiation that actually prevent people from even trying it and that is a shame because so much of our enjoyment and our satisfaction could be improved if we just negotiated a little..  So, how do we get better at negotiation?

One of the most common assumptions I hear about negotiation is that it is very similar, if not identical to, conflict and who likes conflict?  One of the things that people don't like about conflict is that there are often "winners" and "losers" and when faced with the chance of losing, people chose not to engage.  I think there is a much better definition for negotiation that helps offset this idea that you might "lose" or be humiliated and that is simply that:

Negotiation is about finding common ground for collaboration

rather than about winning a conflict.

Think about this. A lot of people see negotiation as conflict and make a choice to avoid it at all costs. In fact the exact opposite is true. Negotiation is about exploring the landscape looking for the common ground that will satisfy both parties and allow the transaction or deal to occur. I'll use a trivial example to make the point.

You and a friend want to get together for coffee. You suggest a time and date. Your friend has a prior commitment on that time and date so he suggests another option. Unfortunately, the time he suggests doesn't work for you so you suggest an alternative, perhaps even a phone call instead of a coffee meeting. After a bit more exploration, you find a time and date that is agreeable to both of you and...both of you are looking forward to getting together. Do you see any conflict in this negotiation? I am going to guess the answer is no because there isn't any conflict - only collaboration.

Now you may wish to argue that it is different when money is involved to which I will promptly ask, "What is different?" The common ground that you are looking for is finding the overlap between the goods and/or services being offered and the price you are comfortable is fair and are willing to pay. Undoubtedly the vendor wants to sell to you and you are interested in buying so the question is really - is there common ground between what they can offer and what you are willing to pay? It is a collaborative process!

I have worked with a number of people that have issues with money and by that I don't mean that they don't have enough. Their issue stems from how they see money and how they feel about it. I cover this off on another page on this site but I feel it is worth making a distinction here between negotiating to find common ground and the feeling that money is somehow dirty or precious beyond belief.

So - what can you negotiate? Well to be honest, I have been surprised and have come to the conclusion that pretty much anything can be negotiated to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.

Key Tip: Almost everything is negotiable...if you try.

Here are a couple of personal examples:

I had to buy a minor computer peripheral and ended up finding what I wanted quite by accident at a local department store. It was more than I felt comfortable paying however, so I asked the sales clerk if these things ever went on sale. He looked into the computer and noted that this particular device had been on sale for 40% off but that the sale was now over. Quite simply, I was unwilling to pay full price for this device so I asked if he would be willing to sell it to me at the previous sale price. His response was no but that he could take 25% off the list price and I was happy with that. Conflict? Nope - collaboration. He got a sale and I got the component I needed at a price I was willing to pay.

Interestingly enough - a lot of the time, people don't even ask! They just assume that the sticker price is the real price and don't even give the salesperson the opportunity to sell it to them! Who wins in that game? Its lose-lose! You have everything to gain by asking the question and trying to find the common ground.

A second example. My wife and I need to replace some blinds in our house. We had the sales person come out and show us the product and after deciding on the product - he presented his estimate to have the windows we wanted done, done. The estimate was way above our budget but we both wanted to complete the deal so we tried to find common ground. After trimming out some of the "accessories" and still not getting to the price point I needed, I suggested going to a less expensive and lower quality covering. The sales person clearly wanted to sell the upscale product knowing that we would be happier with it and thus be in a position to refer additional business to him. He ended up selling us the upscale product at a price that was just slightly more than the lesser quality option. Needless to say, we were delighted and he got the sale. No conflict - lots of happiness!

There are a couple of key points that I think are critical to this process. If you approach negotiation from a place of believing that in order for you to win, the other party must lose - you will end up in conflict and this can feel very awkward. 

Keep in mind, no one should ever agree to a negotiated settlement that they are not happy with.

If you are not happy with the deal - don't commit to it. It will haunt you and cause you feelings of regret and who needs that? This is a key point I learned from taking a course on negotiation from the organization created by Chester Karrass. I highly recommend it as well as his book, "The Negotiating Game".

Secondly, know what it is you believe is fair. Do your homework, understand the value of what it is you are after and know how much you are willing to spend or what compromises you are willing to make. In the blind example above, one non-negotiable was the color - my wife wanted white. We were offered a beige colored blind fabric for a price we could pay but the color was non-negotiable. The quality on the other hand wasn't as set in stone.

Negotiating is fun. Just like setting up a coffee date with a friend - both parties end up getting what they want to their mutual benefit. The real shame is assuming that there is no common ground and not giving the other party the opportunity to look for it!

Try it out. It gets much easier with practice!

Be Prepared to Walk

The best tool in your negotiation tool kit is having the discipline to walk. I don't mean being rude, but I do mean saying "no" to a poor deal and leaving. You may or may not come back to the store at some future point, or you may even wish to leave your information with the sales person just in case they have the opportunity to make it happen. have to honestly be prepared to say no. If you do say yes to a deal you are not happy with - well you didn't find common ground - you actually caved in and who wants to live with that?

The Pause

Sometimes you don't even have to walk - you just have to stop the process. Next to walking, the next most powerful tool is "the Break". Just saying "I need to think about it", can move the power back into your court and leave the other party guessing.

Use this time to mentally explore the landscape of opportunity again - remember this is about finding out what the win-win situation is. Are there other things you haven't considered? What else might change in order for this to feel right. As long as you are paused, the other party will either be worried about losing the sale or thinking about other options to make it happen. In either case, the pause is a very effective way to manage the flow of the conversation and not get "sold" before you are ready to be sold.

Powerful Silence

One more step down the line and sometimes the easy thing to do, is to just be quiet. Think about it. Reflect, hum and haw a bit. Often letting that pregnant pause exist for a while will cause the other party to fill the silence. Anytime they are talking they are offering up something, either an indication of urgency or that they are done or that there are other options to find common ground that have yet to be explored. Silence in negotiation is truly golden!

Write Things Down

For some reason, when you have things written down or you bring in some sort of printed material into the negotiation, it causes the other party to be less confident and feel less informed. For example, if you go into by a sofa, why not bring in some Lazy-Boy brochures? These brochures will highlight every selling feature of the Lazy-Boy product and you can bet the sales person for furniture "ABC" will treat you as a better if not well informed customer.

This is easily done - "It say's here that Lazy-Boy makes their furniture frames out of solid maple. What are yours made out of?" They may be maple or they maybe something else - but you will notice a shift in energy and power relative to the old "What can you tell me about your furniture?" approach.

I have also found that once I know the price I am willing to pay for something, I try to write it out in an invoice with a "final" pay amount written at the bottom. I find this useful for a number of reasons. First of all - because it is written down in seems for final and carries more weight. Secondly, it also means that the other party is not going to be able to tack on some extras that may have not been discussed in the negotiations, e.g. warranty, shipping fee, or my favorite the recycling fee. Once sales person told me that they couldn't negotiate the recycling fee down because it was like a tax. I told them that they would have to figure something out since I was only paying the final amount as listed on my draft invoice. In essence, coming in with something written down (once you have the landscape well covered), gives you the chance to nail your deal down. Remember - they won't accept it unless they feel it is good for them as well.

A Little Bit More

Once you start getting the hang of it and negotiation becomes fun, there are a number of other little techniques to try out. One of them is the "little bit more" strategy. Here is how it works.

Say you are negotiating the price on a car and things are progressing well. You may well be at the point of a deal, and then comes the little bit more strategy and it is quite simply to ask for something that is of interest to you, but not so large as to reopen up the ground already covered. It could be a simple as window tinting. This might be a couple of hundred dollars on a vehicle worth $30-$40 thousand dollars. Why not ask. Often, the dealer will throw something your way just to seal the deal, especially if he wants to close today rather than at some future date.

This is where doing a bit of homework is well worthwhile. Know what some of the options might be. It might be as straight forward as a free tie, or free alterations when you have just lined up to by a new outfit. Maybe they won't throw it in...but I am guessing most of the time they will.

Another gambit along the same line is to ask for a multiple discount. This can mean going shopping with a friend and taking two appliances if they give you 10% off the total for example. Win for you two, and the store gets an additional sale.

Probably the easiest thing to ask for depending on where you live, is for the vendor to cover the sales tax. Again, make sure it is worth your while - I think it is poor to ask for someone to throw in the sales tax on a magazine to save you $0.50 but to save 10% on a $100 toaster oven? Why not ask!

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