Life is one great big negotiation. Your bargaining skills are always hard at work — from asking the cable company to fix a billing error or negotiating a better salary to haggling with a 9-year-old over bedtime.
That’s why upgrading your technique pays dividends. Following are some tips for more successful negotiations.
1. Stay focused on your goal
Negotiating is stressful, so it’s easy to lose focus. To stay on target:
- Try to avoid being ambushed by a negotiation. If possible, take the time to prepare your case and tactics. Plan how you’ll stay on track if the conversation veers into unexpected areas.
- Focus on what you stand to gain. “Whenever we think about our goals in terms of potential gains, we automatically (often without realizing it) become more comfortable with risk and less sensitive to concerns about what could go wrong,” writes the Harvard Business Review. Dwelling on what you might lose pulls you into a defensive position, making you conservative and risk-averse.
2. Know your limits
Negotiation is by definition a compromise. You’ll need to give up some things to win others. Before going into a negotiation, know clearly what you are willing to give up and where you cannot yield.
3. Name your price first
Your opening bid sets the terms for the negotiation. Try to name a price first and name it high if you are negotiating salary, low if you’re negotiating a purchase price. You can give ground later, but you’ll never get a better number than your initial bid.
4. Let the other party name a price first
When it comes to salary negotiations, at least, there’s another school of thought. Jack Chapman, salary expert at job-matching website The Ladders, advises against naming a price too soon. He writes:
“The risk you run by speaking first is that your salary history may scare them off. If you go first, you’ll either be too high, or too low. But since you won’t know ahead of time which of those three numbers applies to you, you can lose the offer by coming in too high or too low.
Instead, wait until you know they’re serious about hiring you — let them make you an offer. That way you lock in an offer and you’ve got the job — and you can negotiate from that place of security.”
5. Conceal your interest
Classic haggling technique includes feigning a lack of interest in the object of your desire. Note: This may not be a useful tactic in a salary negotiation unless you have good reason to believe that they are dying to hire you.
However, if you’re bargaining for jewelry at a flea market, or shopping for a car, remember that a seller is likely to keep the price high on the items he believes you value most, using your desire as leverage against you.
6. Know your adversary
What’s most important to the other side? Studying the people and organizations with whom you’re bargaining helps tell you what they may and may not give up. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson tells Inc. he advises negotiators to:
“Know everything about your adversary: What they stand for, what they think, who is the last person they talked to. Read up on the culture and the person. Know if the adversary is entering the negotiation with strength, or is negotiating from weakness.”
7. See your adversary as your partner
It may seem unlikely, but cooperation can produce better results. Negotiators “who perceive the same interactions through a cooperative lens are more likely to increase collective profits, to everyone’s benefit,” according to research by professor Nir Halevy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
No need to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” Just try putting yourself in the other side’s shoes and find ways to get what you want while helping them win, too.
8. Keep learning
Good negotiators keep learning, says Ray Fells, author of “Effective Negotiation: From Research to Results.” He tells negotiators to analyze what they did and how well it worked after completing a negotiation. Use your analysis to constantly refine your skills and performance.
9. Understand your assumptions
Negotiators trip themselves up by failing to understand how different their values and thinking may be from their counterparts, Fells says.
He advises knowing yourself well enough to anticipate where you’re likely to make errors. You might, for example, tend toward innocence and fail to notice when others are scheming. Or you may have a little edge of paranoia that makes you look for boogeymen where there are none.
10. Negotiate a range, not a number
Scholars at Columbia Business School compared five approaches to negotiating for a price or a salary. They found that negotiating a range that includes your target number — on the lower end in the case of a salary you want, or on the higher end in the case of a price you are willing to pay — will often get the result you want.
Researchers call this approach the “bolstering range offer.”
11. Keep your cool
Bring your best manners to a negotiation. Never lose your temper. Avoid it by practicing beforehand, picturing yourself responding to provocations.
Emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize your own emotions as well as those of others and to respond calmly and productively, is key to effective negotiating.
12. Lose the attitude
Cockiness, bluster and personal attacks offend others. Bringing attitude to a negotiation puts you at risk of being perceived as arrogant and gives the other side plenty of reason to say, “No.”
Says Richardson, the former U.N. ambassador, in Inc.:
“Never insult your adversary culturally. By that I mean, don’t appear to be in a hurry. Don’t appear to be haughty. Don’t appear to be the smartest guy in the room. It’ll never work.”
13. Dial down the competitiveness
It’s in your best interest to reduce the competitiveness between you and the other side.
Competitiveness can start an arms race in which the other party mirrors your behavior and raises the ante, behaving more competitively toward you than they might have otherwise.