Former American President John F. Kennedy left us with a great quote: "Let’s never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate". Actually, we do fear to negotiate though, don’t we. We worry about asking for too much or too little. We usually imagine a "negotiator" as someone totally unlike ourselves, a tough individual with ice coursing through their veins.
Ironically, we are all negotiating everyday within our families, circle of friends and companies. Decisions have to be taken, a direction has to be chosen and we need others to agree with our idea. This often requires compromise or even giving up our idea, in preference to competing suggestions. We are not taught how to negotiate though and so we are mainly unschooled amateurs flailing around.
This "negotiation" issue is a big topic, so let’s narrow the focus to common mistakes we may be making right now, which we should eliminate forthwith.
Negotiating price before details
There are many elements usually involved in making a decision and price is just one of them. We need to garner the full spectrum of issues involved and check our assumptions about what will happen once a deal has been struck. Hidden fees, terms of payment, penalties, timing – we should create our own checklist of items before we even have any discussion with the other party.
Failing to keep the end in mind and leaving no room for negotiation
Key details can occupy our complete attention to the detriment of what we are ultimately trying to achieve. There are micro and macro perspectives involved and we need to be able to keep reminding ourselves of the big picture, while we are mired in the mud and blood of the details.
Lack of confidence
We undermine our mental attitude to the process of negotiating by talking ourselves down. Coming across as hesitant, unsure, nervous may embolden our negotiating partner and we achieve a diminished result as a consequence. In our lives the vast majority of people we will be negotiating with will be rank amateurs, just like us, so we shouldn’t be shy about what we are doing.
Failing to understand the needs of the customer
Some things may not be negotiable, often for reasons which we could never even imagine. Once we understand clearly what the other side wants, we will be in a better position to find middle ground and strike a mutually satisfactory agreement.
Letting the customer dictate the process and outcomes
The buyer may feel they are the dominant side in the negotiation and may try to force us to an agreement through the brute strength of their buying power. A bad agreement is a bad agreement, so we are reasonable in asking for input into the process and for deciding to walk away from the negotiating table.
We may in fact be desperate, but handing that key insight over to the negotiating partner is not necessary. We become all give and no take in the toing and froing of the negotiating process.
Using argumentative communications
Emotional control is an asset we should develop and cherish. Verbal or written outbursts may make us feel important. Usually, however, they don’t help to find an agreement. It is rarely a good idea set fire to the emotional wick inside the other person we are negotiating with.
Failing to recognize the walk away points
We don’t have to agree if we don’t like the arrangements and we are better to flag those early, if they are deal breakers. Time is money, so let’s move on and find someone else more suitable to negotiate with.
Narrowing negotiations to one point, usually price
Price is only one element of cost – there are other levers around financing, quality, timing, volume, contract length, etc., which can come into play.
Often, we get in our own way and make things unnecessarily hard for ourselves. If we stop making these basic mistakes we will do better in getting a preferred outcome.