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Life Skills

The Fine Art of Negotiation
by Marco den Ouden 

 

Have I got a deal for you! How many times have you heard that line? It's standard pitchman fare and it appeals to people on a couple of levels. One is just plain greed. A good deal. Save money. Another is the desire to be an insider - a deal for me? Yeah! Great!

In life we often run into situations where a deal is negotiated. Buying a car. Buying a house. Perhaps even getting married. Whatever the situation, it is useful to know how to negotiate a good or even a great deal.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a seminar on the art of negotiation. The session was conducted by Randy Shuttleworth, an Edmonton-based professional guru who operates something called The Training Company. (His business card actually calls him a training guru.) He conducts seminars and programs on a variety of topics, one of which is negotiation.

Negotiation, according to Shuttleworth is an art, not a science. And understanding what negotiation is and some of the strategies that go with it will help you come out ahead. Why? Because most people, unskilled in the art of negotiation, don't always get the best deal possible.

Top negotiators exhibit certain common characteristics. First of all, they know what they want out of the deal before going into negotiations. They are shrewd - they look for a win-win situation. They are good listeners - they're open to hearing what the other side is looking for and trying accommodate that. They identify key issues quickly. They are creative, patient and seek common ground. They have an empathy for people.

Some people go into negotiations with the idea that there is a limited pie. And, of course, they want the biggest slice. But are these assumptions true? Shuttleworth maintains that they are not. Not everyone wants the same thing out of a deal. And because of these differences, a win-win situation is the desirable outcome.

Take buying a car, for example. The dealer wants a sale and to make a profit. If business is slow, the dealer may have a cash flow problem and be willing to settle for less, or even no profit, in order to generate cash. The customer, on the other hand, wants a vehicle. Factors that affect him, besides the cost, are style, ease of maintenance, warranty, gas mileage and other factors that the dealer doesn't really care about.

The art of negotiation is to find the common ground on which a deal can be made.

The Forces of Negotiation

Shuttleworth says there are four distinct forces acting on negotiations. These are

  • Time
  • Information
  • Options
  • Approach

Time

The person who has the most time wins. If you have a tight deadline, the other side can wait you out to get the better deal. You feel pressure. The other side is calm, collected and patient.

For example, if you're buying a car and your current car is quite serviceable and you are in no hurry, you will likely get a better deal. But if you just had your car checked out and the garage says you will need a major, expensive repair in a month, and you decide to buy a new car rather than have the service done, you are under a time constraint. The closer you get to the end of that month, the more urgent it becomes to get a new car.

This is why sales presentations for timeshares, buyer's clubs and even pricey investment courses, will often tell you that you can get their special deal if you act NOW. But if you decide against the deal and change your mind later, you're hooped. It is a sales tactic contrived to put you in a time constraint. Don't fall for it.

Another interesting note: according to Shuttleworth, 80% of concessions are made in the last 20% of the time.

Information

They call this the information age. And certainly, information is money. The more knowledgeable you are, the better a deal you will get. Consider renewing your mortgage. The bank will offer to renew it at a certain rate. If you are aware of the competition's rates, you are in a better position to negotiate a better deal for yourself.

Hmm. 7% Mr. Bank Manager? The bank down the street is offering the same mortgage at 6 1/2% and they are willing to give me a $500 cash rebate to boot. You're going to have to come up with a better offer.

And if a better offer comes, you can probably still get a better deal, particularly if you are a very good customer.

It also helps to have a good understanding of what the other side really wants and what their priorities are.

Options

Always keep your options open. Have a fallback position. At the same time, don't give the other side too many options. It helps to negotiate one issue at a time.

Approach

This is really a common sense approach to people skills. As Shuttleworth put it, "People like to help nice people. They like to hurt jerks." So be nice! Be friendly!

They, on the other hand, may not be nice. But don't let their style distract you. Keep focused on your goals and priorities.

Shuttleworth also notes that the Pygmalion Syndrome comes into play here. Have high expectations and you will achieve high outcomes.

Shuttleworth went on to a number of negotiating tactics and counter-tactics. These are quite fascinating in themselves and may form the basis for another article. Meanwhile let's conclude with a few key tips.

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare!
  • Never let your ego negotiate.
  • Always let the other person save face.
  • Don't name a price first.
  • Never accept the first offer.

And always know when to fold. A deal may just not be in the cards. Know your bottom line and be prepared to stick to it. At the same time, never walk away from a deal with a "Take it or leave it" ultimatum. Always leave room for a re-opening of talks. Walk away with "Looks like we can't agree today. Let's sleep on it and talk again later."

And remember, it's all a game. Approach it as a game, and negotiating a deal can be both fun and profitable.

 

Contents copyright Marco den Ouden       All Rights reserved
Typewriter graphic courtesy Stockfreeimages.com