Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The ABC's of Negotiation According to Al Walsh

Negotiating – The ABC’s

In order to progress, most corporate managers have to develop negotiating skills at some point in their career. Negotiation is a learned skill. You’re not born with it. Here’s some thoughts that I’ve learned.

In case you didn’t realize it, you negotiate all the time;
at work, at home, and in public.
My wife can hardly wait to get down to Mexico and dicker with the shopkeepers. It’s in the blood for many of us. Even if it’s not “in your blood”, you might have more skill than you know. As you read through the following tips, think about it.

Many urban myths revolve around this topic – the most prevalent being that you have to be one of the “chatty beautiful people” to be a success. We’ve all known them, the “Ken” or Barbie” people who have the flawless looks and the glib communications style. We’re a “beauty-oriented” society, so these traits can help speed careers or open doors. But often these traits can be distractions in a negotiation – especially if they’re talking too much and not listening.

Some of the most effective negotiators I’ve known are quiet, earnest people who seldom speak unless they have something meaningful to say. These people share an almost universal trait; they’re good listeners, while being circumspect in their speech.

A basic rule of effective negotiation is to keep your position “close to the vest”. Don’t blab your intentions, or your goals, or your “power cards’ to the other side. Let them make their own assumptions, and then play to those assumptions. Let them tell you what they think they know about you, and then use their mistaken perceptions to advantage.

Listen! Listen! Listen!
If you’re talking, you’re divulging information to the other side that you probably shouldn’t.
Let the other side do that. You listen & learn. If you must speak, try to draw them out – and then shut up. You’d be amazed what some people will divulge if you just go quiet and give them enough rope to “hang” themselves. This is especially true if they’re an inexperienced, nervous negotiator; which covers a lot of folks.

Don’t get emotionally involved. As soon as you do, the other guy has an advantage.
Try to convey the aura that you’re a concerned person who cares about creating a “win-win’ situation – but privately, don’t care that much. If you get emotionally involved, you won’t be very effective. If you don’t, negotiating will be a lot more fun; with a better outcome.

Don’t go into the negotiation with a high-brow attitude. If anything, let them assume you’re a little insecure and/or incompetent. Your posed posture will encourage them to draw incorrect conclusions, bluster, and let their guard down. Let them be impressed afterward when they realize the outcome of the negotiation. If they don’t figure it out, and think they won, all the better for next time.

Never let yourself be intimidated. You may want to give the impression that you are intimidated to throw the other guy off, but inside you should remain unruffled. It’s tried all the time, and it will work if you let it. Big companies like to intimidate small ones, powerful people intimidate the weak, etc. Just remember that we’re all naked under our clothes. If someone tries a “take it or leave it” stance with you, immediately throw out a counter-proposal. There’s something in human nature that virtually guarantees a counter-proposal in return, and off you go! Never take No! or “Take-it-or-leave it!” as a final answer. Counter-propose them to death.

Never reveal your worst-case acceptable negotiating stance. If you must let the negotiation get to that point, let the other party say it. Always start with your best possible stance, or higher, and make them work you down. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Never take it for granted what the other party knows, or wants, or is willing to live with. Let them tell you; while you keep your knowledge & stance as private as possible.

Negotiation is as much about the people as the facts, and almost everything is negotiable.
You probably already know most of the facts going in, so concentrate on the people during the negotiation process. Humans are funny creatures, and a little attention to them can reap big rewards. Watch and listen to the other party. If they’re impatient, drag out time and use it to your advantage. Most parties enter into negotiations with flawed assumptions and overblown goals. Use time to bring matters down to the realm of reality.
Keep in mind that the other party probably won’t shift toward a more desirable posture until the last second. Be patient. If you see a situation developing that will inevitably end up in negotiation, don’t wait – strike while the “iron is hot”.
Gather you facts, and act. By taking the initiative, you may well catch the other party off-guard and gain advantage. Watch the other party, wait for signs of what makes them “tick” and play to it. You’d be amazed how shallow some people can be; especially people who are obsessed with their own importance. Let them be important. Help them be important. You concentrate on the negotiation itself.

Many so-called experts will tell you that the goal of all negotiations should be “win-win”, whatever that is. I say the objective is to come away with the best possible outcome. If the other party wants to “give the store away”, let them. Obviously I’m not promoting the Simon LeGree posture of shafting the disadvantaged. I’m talking about business negotiations, and in that arena: “all’s fair in love & war”.

Learn from the other party. If you sense that they’re playing you, protect yourself and then learn from them. Just being aware that you’re being played is the best protection.

My final bit of advice – have fun. Negotiation is a creative process that affords you the opportunity to utilize a wide variety of talents in a fluid situation. Don’t just go for the status quo – reach for the sky.

These are just a few thoughts on the subject, but they cover a lot of ground and should provide the basic platform for anyone to become an effective negotiator.

Good Luck. Enjoy Yourself. Grow and Prosper with It.

Al Walsh, Owner/Founder
Walsh Enterprises, Business Advisors

1 comment:

Al Walsh said...

Patty DeDominic commented in a private email that she always tries to go for a "win-win" in negotiations, citing her Harvard Negotiation training.

I disagree. It's not your job to figure out what a minimum "win" is for the other party; that's their job - and if they're any kind of a negotiator, they're not going to reveal it to you. If you try to give them a "win", you might end up giving away more than you have to. Let them worry about their "win", and you concentrate on yours.

Ha! Take that Harvard!

Al Walsh