Elements of Successful Negotiation

When you need something from another person and you don’ t have the power to just commandeer it, you’ll benefit from applying some basic negotiation techniques.

Negotiation is particularly important when you expect to be coming back to this same person for more, maybe multiple times. By negotiating fairly, you leave open the door to beneficial future dealings that heavy-handed tactics would slam closed forever.

Here are some suggestions for negotiating both fairly and effectively:

Establish Your Goals

As with so many elements leading to increased productivity and success, it’s far more likely you will get what you want when you are clear on what that is.

Because you are negotiating, and will likely have to trade something away to get what you want, it’s important to recognize two levels of desire:

  1. What you’ll ask for initially and can reasonably expect to receive from the other person.
  2. The absolute minimum you will accept from the other person, because to get less than that minimum would make dealing with this other person, or giving up anything, a net loss.

The goals you establish for any particular negotiation may depend not only on the intrinsic matters involved, but also on goals achieved in earlier, comparable negotiations, as well as any precedents those negotiations have set.

Your goals may also vary with the personal consequences that could result from your handling of the negotiation, and the outcome you are able to achieve.

Itemize Your Resources

Since we’re talking about trading something you have for something you want, it’s important to know what you are – and are not – willing to trade.

Start by considering everything available for trade that the other person might want. But prepare for possible surprises. Very often, what you believe is desirable has limited or no appeal to the other person, and what they really want is something you entirely overlooked, don’t care about, or absolutely will not give up.

Consider Your Alternatives

Negotiation never comes with a guarantee of success. That’s why there are two important benefits to knowing what else you can do if you can’t get what you want from the person with whom you’re negotiating:

  1. Knowing your alternatives helps you put a value on concluding a successful negotiation with this person. The more attractive your alternatives, the less you need to bend yourself out of shape to reach a satisfactory arrangement. On the other hand, if you can find no reasonable alternatives, negotiating an agreement with this person becomes much more important, perhaps critically so.
  2. Knowing your alternatives sets both your level of motivation and your lower threshold for what you’re willing to trade away to reach a negotiated agreement. With attractive alternatives available, you don’t need to try very hard or give up much of value. With limited alternatives open to you, it might make sense to pull out all the stops and perhaps even give away the whole farm.

Knowing your alternatives also helps you consider and develop various possible outcomes you might want to try for in this negotiation. 

Weigh Your Relationship

Many negotiations are part of an ongoing relationship. When this is the case, that relationship can figure prominently into your tactics, your strategy, your acceptable compromises, and even your negotiating style.

Relationship factors include your history together, your knowledge of how the other person thinks and feels, and your awareness of any subsurface considerations or issues that could impact the negotiation process.

One important factor is the power relationship between you and the other person. Which of you has more influence over the other? How is control of important resources distributed between you? How would this power relationship be changed by the various possible outcomes of this negotiation?

Incidentally, one of the best ways to establish a solid basis for a successful negotiation – regardless of the power relationship between you – is first to listen to what the other person is telling you about where they’re coming from, and then to echo your understanding of that “world view” back to them with an accuracy that gets them to say “That’s right.”

The goal of your negotiation efforts should naturally be to find an outcome that works for both you and the other person. It’s even better if you can reach an agreement that lets both sides feel they got more than they traded away. This kind of a “win-win” outcome is not as difficult to achieve as it seems. Why? Because people work and live within different value systems, potentially allowing each person to trade away a low-value item that the other person values much more highly.

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