Have you ever been in a negotiation and gotten everything you wanted?
Have you ever been in a negotiation and didn’t get anything that you wanted?
Like you, I have had both of these experiences. The question is “What causes the difference?” Why is it that sometimes we get everything we want and other times we get zilch? If you don’t know the answer, then you will continue to get spotty results in your future negotiations. It will be like a cross-eyed discus thrower…you won’t set any records, but you will keep the crowd awake.
All of us negotiate everyday in lots of different circumstances and settings, whether it’s about a child’s bedtime, getting a raise, buying a car, returning a purchase with no receipt, figuring out where everyone wants to go for dinner or raising money for your new company. Everything we want is currently owned or controlled by someone else. So, it is inevitable that we will spend a great deal of time negotiating, and the degree of success that we achieve in getting what we want is largely dependent on how well we negotiate.
The most powerful form of leverage we have is the power of the mind. One of the most powerful things our minds do is focus our thoughts. Have you ever heard the old saying, “ You get what you focus on?” It’s true.
My experience is that in a negotiation, most people are usually very focused on what they think that THEY want…or on their “position.” In addition, most people I have met or negotiated with are very interested in talking and in telling me what they think THEY want. They think that the most important part of a negotiation is saying what they want. Furthermore, whether they admit it or not, most people view a negotiation as a win/lose proposition. It’s an argument. It’s about subtraction, not addition. No wonder most people don’t have everything they want.
The truth is that when we enter into a negotiation, there is a paradox: In order for me to get what I want, I must be willing to give you what you want. Otherwise there will not be an agreement and neither of us will get what we want. There is no way for me to give you what you want if I don’t know what that is. The way I find out is either for you to tell me or for me to ask lots of questions. Herein lies one of the great problems in most negotiations. In order for me to help you get what you want, I have to be willing to listen to you. I must be able to ask you questions and then to listen very carefully to your answers. One of the great keys to a successful negotiation is to focus on listening, not talking. What I am listening for is what is important to you and why it is important
The only way we are able to get a deal done and reach an agreement that satisfies everyone’s needs is by asking lots of questions to find out what is REALLY important to the other side and why it is important. Finding out what is motivating the other person is crucial to successfully getting to an optimum agreement. Equally important is knowing what it is that you want in a negotiation and why you want it. You must know what is motivating you and you must be willing to tell the other side what that is. How in the whole world can you expect the other side to meet your needs if you don’t tell them what they are? And yet, too many times I have seen people not disclose what they really want because they think that it will dilute their bargaining position or make them less powerful.
My final thought for this article is that too often we negotiate as if we will never see this person again. My experience is just the opposite. More leases are renewed than are written from scratch. More shipments go to old customers than to new ones. There are a limited number of bankers in my town and my reputation precedes me, no matter what that reputation is. Life is short, and it does tend to come full circle. How you conduct yourself and how you handle your emotions will be part of your legacy. Negotiation is not a war. It isn’t about getting the other side to wave a flag and surrender. Don’t think hurt. Think help. Don’t demand. Listen. Don’t say my way or the highway. Be flexible. Be creative. Spend some time working on increasing your power by creating great alternatives.
Next time you negotiate, try asking lots of questions, practice really listening to the answers and tell the other side why something is important to you. You will be amazed at the results.
Keith J. Cunningham