Post No.: 0765
Negotiation is a game, where each side hopes the other will believe that a ‘final offer’ is really so. Make it a fun game if possible. It’s serious stuff yet don’t take yourself too seriously! Make it a game of addition too – of expanding the pie – rather than subtraction or exclusion.
Act with good faith. Be fair to others – the world of relations is highly interconnected, especially in business, so deals should never really be treated as one-off here. If you leave someone unhappy or unfairly screw them over, they’ll tell a dozen or two other people in their industry! Each deal you make must therefore build on fair principles. (If you do manage to disgruntle someone through unfairness though, or perhaps you made them lose face by pointing out their lies – maybe they won’t have qualms with negotiating with someone else in your organisation? Therefore send them to this person in the future (without them ever mentioning your name). If your counterpart treated you unfairly however then play on their guilt!)
Be soft on people but hard on the problem – separate the people from the problem, and foster trust and rapport. Explore and focus on your and their underlying immediate and long-term interests (the ‘why’ e.g. the end goal); not on entrenching positions (the ‘what’ e.g. the price). The root cause or interest for your or their position could be to save face or not seem weak, thus knowing this would mean we’ll know their position isn’t immovable or the price won’t be the only potential route to offer concessions for. Identify any potential hindrances to the engagement too. Invent or discover multiple options for a mutual ‘win-win’ gain – think laterally, and think what can be decided later? Be open-minded in the sense of being open to a range of different ideas and solutions, being open to working with your counterpart, and making some concessions (which doesn’t mean simply giving your counterpart whatever they want – you’re looking for both sides to get what you both want).
View each other as problem-solvers instead of adversaries. Be neither subservient nor single-minded in seeking victory. Seek an amicable and workable solution. Use reason and yield to principle and reason, not to pressure or a battle of wills. Insist on using objective criteria – if you can defend your request by giving an objective or external reason for it, rather than a seemingly subjective or personal reason for it, then it can be far more persuasive.
Be soft on style but hard on substance – some describe it as being ‘relentlessly pleasant’ because being nasty won’t get you what you want. Lies might bite you back but, in these contexts, white lies are arguably acceptable to make people feel good about themselves. So use charm. You might achieve a one-off result through coercion but beware of getting ignored or backstabbed in the future. Be assertive rather than aggressive, encouraging rather than threatening, and use persuasion rather than coercion. Collaborate and look for options over reductive ultimatums. Have a positive ‘can do’ attitude regarding joint problem solving rather than a negative or ambivalent attitude. Look for ongoing relationships and group goals rather than distant relationships and individual goals. And seek for win-win, positive-sum outcomes over win-lose, zero-sum or negative-sum outcomes.
We shouldn’t treat our friends and family like customers or employees, yet negotiations or bargaining situations are unavoidable in any close or long-term relationship too – hence collaborative rather than competitive problem-solving approaches and achieving win-win outcomes are even more critical here.
Yet even in close or long-term relationships, there might still inevitably be some win-lose situations (e.g. you want to go to Scotland for the weekend together but your spouse wants to go to Wales, and you both really don’t want to go separately alone and it’d be even worse to stay at home because these would be lose-lose outcomes) but if the relationship is valued then the reciprocation will be shared over time i.e. one gets their way one day then the other gets their way another day.
In any context, you and the other party don’t have to be happy all of the time though because a win-win outcome isn’t always feasible. And a win-win scenario isn’t always in your own best interests either (e.g. you should really want to get the best deal you can when buying a house regardless of what the seller gets, thus seeking a win-lose outcome is fine in such cases that are highly likely going to be one-off interactions).
You mightn’t want the other person to be mad at you so you go along with them, but you might then get annoyed at yourself for conceding something you really couldn’t afford to give – and so you might hold that resentment over them in a passive-aggressive manner when really you could blame yourself for being too accommodating during the negotiation! So note that a compromise isn’t the same as a win-win outcome – in a compromise, every party makes some sacrifices to reach an agreement; whereas in a win-win outcome, every party obtains desirable outcomes without any need for sacrifices.
So, for instance, in close and long-term relationship contexts (particularly dating or intimate partner contexts) – if your partner is pushing for something he/she wants but you’re not comfortable with that then speak up. Understand what the relationship means to you and what you want out of it too, and joint problem-solve by talking through and understanding his/her answers to these questions too. In other words, don’t forget to fight for what you want too, and don’t be taken advantage of for failing to speak up or negotiate things.
Create value (work together to enlarge the pie for a win-win outcome) then claim that value (fight for the larger slice as hard as you can, bearing in mind how much preserving the relationship matters to you).
Getting better at negotiating, like most things, simply involves getting more practice. Start with little haggles or requests that you’re confident of easily getting, then gradually build that up to asking for things you might not get, maybe things you think you don’t even deserve, in contexts that are out of your comfort zone, and things that actively court rejection. Getting used to rejection via practice is probably the most important step – if you never hear, “No” then you’ll never know how much more you could’ve gotten. You could safely role-play with a fluffy buddy to test different approaches and strategies.
For some people, reframing a negotiation as if you’re doing it on behalf of someone else, and/or priming yourself with memories of the last time you were assertive and defended your interests, will improve your negotiation performance.
It’s hard negotiating the details of a divorce, or any other situation were there’s a negative-sum outcome, at least financially – all parties here are trying to get at least as good as they were getting before. But that’s not realistic. ‘Having your cake and eating it too’ is a naïve expectation. Instead of a lose-lose outcome, one or both sides are usually seeking a win-lose outcome (e.g. if the net total loss to share is –10, then one side will maybe want a 0 and –10, or even a +1 and –11, outcome for them and the other person respectively).
If negotiations collapse then do whatever you can to deescalate the situation because bad decisions can happen while we’re in a bitter or desperate state. Maybe take a break and reconvene at a later date?
And whenever you receive a rejection – find out why? A ‘no’ today mightn’t be a ‘no’ forever, so find out when might be a better time? You might also be able to get y if you couldn’t get x. By asking questions, you might be able to find out and alleviate their objections by removing their constraints or doing something for them before they’ll agree to a deal i.e. find out how you can turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’, and if you can do that thing then do it and if you can’t then move on. A core part of diplomacy is similarly about ‘getting to yes’.
Care – really care – about what you want, but not that much. As in, sometimes we get so invested in wanted something that we get blinkered and miss the bigger picture. We can focus on winning the war and lose sight of what we were fighting for, as it were. It’s often just material ‘stuff’ at the end of the life, which comes and goes – what matters more are your experiences and relationships along the way. Moreover, if we’re single-minded in wanting something then this removes one of our most powerful options – which is to be able to walk away. If your counterpart senses that you can and will walk away then it puts them in a less powerful position to dictate terms to you. Being too personally invested in wanting something may be why most people perform better when negotiating for others than for themselves. Being deeply emotionally involved in one’s own children may be why we find it harder to negotiate with and get our own children to behave how we’d like (e.g. reneging on ultimatums about them not getting any snacks if they don’t eat their proper meals because you end up giving them those snacks anyway since you don’t want them to go even a bit hungry, hence your child learns that he/she holds the power over you!)
Don’t try to appear like the smartest person in the room because most people hate those who think too highly of themselves! Ask more questions, ask for help, ask for clarifications, and get used to saying, “I don’t know” when you don’t know something. People who listen the most learn the most information too, which can lead to strategic advantages. Don’t overtly tell people how smart you are or what you’ve accomplished – make them feel smart! People like to welcome people or things that make them feel clever and capable, whereas people get defensive towards people or things that make them feel like dunces. Even if they think they can exploit or victimise you as an easy target because you’re keeping low-key or seem clueless and inarticulate – know that they’re therefore investing in the process. And people who invest heavily in any endeavour will tend to find it hard to divest from it, which makes it harder for them to walk away, which will consequently mean one of their most powerful options will be negated. You could then (quietly) exploit that! Some might view this ‘calculated incompetence’ as deeply manipulative but it won’t be if you genuinely don’t think you’re the smartest person in the room.
Face-to-face is usually the best way to negotiate. But plenty of negotiations nowadays are done online, including through email exchanges. You can capture each other’s vocal tone on the phone or via a video call, but if that’s not possible then do what you can to differentiate yourself and your offer from the masses of other people and their offers – tell a bit about yourself, make yourself come across as personable, show compassion to the other side, and make yourself seem unique. Perhaps make a novel offer, be flexible if you can to do things at their convenience, and help solve their other problems if they have any. Take your time to get to know them as well as you can across multiple messages (sending one message is seldom enough). Post No.: 0649 highlighted the importance of learning about any international cultural differences too.
Woof! Keep your allies close but your enemies – well those at the opposite side of the table – even closer. A close relationship will mean that you’ll get to hear things that matter to you and be always up-to-date on matters that matter to them. You may even subsequently make a friend (and receive preferential future offers!)