Some people just seem to have the knack of getting whatever they want - that new client, that big contract, that bigger pay rise. It’s tempting to attribute such feats of deal-making to charisma or charm, but negotiation is essentially a game, which means it has rules and strategies that can be learned.
Rather than wade through 384 pages of Donald Trump explaining these strategies in relationship to himself, here’s a five-point version.
1. Know what you want
First of all, always know what you’re negotiating for - if you don’t know what you want then the other side is unlikely to help you find it. But don’t be so focused on one outcome that you miss other opportunities, especially when the other side may be unwilling to give you what you want. "If you go in for a pay rise, don’t just think about the money. Do you also want flexible working or a management role? Are you willing to work longer in exchange?" Asks Katherine Baker, chief relationship director at Simitri.
Once you know what you want, you need to know what it’s worth - to you and to the other side. Good negotiators listen carefully, because a solid strategy depends on understanding the other side. Use open-ended questions to get detailed answers and avoid missing key details.
3. Negotiate downwards
"If you’re bidding for a contract that you think is worth £10m, go in at that level," says negotiation expert Clive Rich. It will be much harder to negotiate upwards from a lower position. The other side will need to know where they stand with you in the negotiation - so make it easy for them.
4. Be willing to walk away
As any self-respecting Brexit Party candidate will tell you, no deal is better than a bad deal. Don’t feel pressured into agreeing to something because of your current position. Other opportunities will almost certainly appear if this one doesn’t work out. At the same time, don’t use the threat of walking away unless you mean it - if you make idle threats and get found out, it will ruin your credibility, says Rich.
Just as with any other game, practice makes perfect. So don’t go into your biggest negotiation without playing the game before, even if that means finding a street market to haggle in or making a deal with your colleagues about who makes the tea and who cleans out the filing cabinet. Remember, each negotiation is different, so you won’t get a feel for it after just one attempt.
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