Negotiating is an inevitable part of doing business. You negotiate with suppliers, distributors and customers. Good negotiations can lead to prosperity, while bad negotiations can damage your business profitability.

Before you start

The first step to a successful negotiation is to be prepared.

  • Have a plan. Decide on your desired outcome before you negotiate and set your boundaries. It is easy to define your best case scenario, but what is the minimum you are willing to agree to, before you walk away from the negotiating table?
  • Learn about the people you are negotiating with. Understanding their situation can give you the leverage you need to negotiate a favourable deal.
  • Take stock of things you have to offer the other party besides money. Things you might want to include in your negotiations:

    • Level of service
    • Payment schedule
    • Contacts and introductions
    • Partnerships with third parties
    • Contract lengths and durations
    • Expertise and knowledge sharing

Principled negotiation

Negotiations are generally perceived to be confrontational, because each party is trying to get the best deal they can at the expense of the other person. However, negotiations can take on a more positive light. You are not battling with the person across the table. You are building a relationship with them, and possibly the start of a great partnership. It helps to approach the process with a win-win goal in mind.

One method of non-adversarial bargaining is principled negotiation. Here are the four steps involved:

  1. Separate the people from the problem — Make the discussion about what is being negotiated, not who is doing the negotiating.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions — Both sides want something. Focus on the goals rather than on how you want to accomplish those goals.
  3. Invent options for mutual gain — Do not approach the negotiations with the goal of getting what you want. Make the goal something that benefits both sides.
  4. Use objective criteria — Base the negotiations on market values or traditional practices rather than on what you think things are worth.

Smart negotiating

Preparation and planning are not the only elements of smart negotiating. Handling yourself well at the negotiation table is also key. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Emotions — Your emotions can work for or against you. Sending out the right emotional response at the right time can signal your opinion of an offer. This can prompt the person making the offer to make adjustments without your having to make a counter-offer. Too much emotion, on the other hand, can work against you. If you let your emotions guide your negotiation, you could easily accept a bad deal or throw away a good one.
  • Patience — No negotiation is so important that it must be rushed. Let the people you are negotiating with finish what they are saying. Try not to interrupt. This gives the other side an opportunity to make a full offer and it gives you the time you need to fully consider what is being proposed.
  • Silence — We are generally uncomfortable with silences during conversations. When there is silence, we want to speak up to break the tension. However, silence during a negotiation can be a good thing. It gives you a chance to think and compose yourself. Use silence to your advantage.
  • Take a break — It is okay to step away from the negotiating table for a while. A break can give you the time you need to compose yourself and give an offer or counter-offer the thought it deserves. At the very least, a break can relieve the pressure, if you feel you are being pushed into a deal you do not like.
  • Walk away — At the end of the day, you do not have to make a deal. A bad deal can be worse than no deal. If you cannot find a way to get the minimum deal you planned on before sitting down, you may choose to get up from the table and walk away.
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