Negotiation is a fact of life. In a very real sense, we are all negotiators. Inevitably, our own needs and concerns bump up against the needs and concerns of those around us and we bargain in order to reconcile our needs/concerns with those of others.
That said, some people are clearly better at negotiating than others. Some people just seem to have a special talent for knowing just what to say at just the right moment in order to resolve a conflict or close a deal. Such negotiators become the stuff of legends, or at least, Hollywood movies. Steven Spielberg’s recent movie, Bridge of Spies, immortalizes a gifted negotiator by the name of James Donovan, portrayed in the movie by Tom Hanks.
The rest of us, however, are compelled to resort to our own more modest talents when we engage in bargaining endeavors. The good news, however, is that all of us can adopt some relatively simple techniques employed by successful negotiators, and enhance the odds of success in our face-to-face encounters. Here are a few simple techniques you can try in your next adventure in bargaining:
1. Avoid using ‘irritators’ in your conversation. By ‘irritators’, I mean those innocuous words and phrases (example: “this is a generous offer”) that have zero persuasive value and are more apt to irritate the party with whom you are negotiating. When you tell your counterpart that your own proposal is ‘fair’ or ‘reasonable’ you imply that she would be unfair or unreasonable to reject it. So, refrain from attempts to attach positive value judgments to your own proposals, particularly when those judgments will communicate negative implications about the other side.
2. Limit your counterproposals. If the other party presents you with a proposal, avoid the temptation to immediately respond with a counterproposal of your own. When you routinely respond to the other side’s proposals with counterproposals, your responses are apt to be interpreted as blocking mechanisms rather than as proposals in their own right. In addition, counterproposals have a way of muddying the waters as they tend to add issues to the discussion rather than promoting clarity and bringing focus to the issue in question. While counterproposals do have their place in negotiation behavior, use them sparingly. Judicious use will increase their effectiveness and reduce the chance of your antagonizing the other side.
3. Give the other side a “heads up” on what you are about to say. This particular technique, referred to as ‘behavior labeling,’ is quite simple to use, but can be very effective. Suppose, for example, you are negotiating to sell your car, and the other party’s purchase offer is below Kelley Blue Book. Instead of asking, “Why are you offering me less than Kelley Blue Book?”, consider asking, “Can I ask you a question: Why is your offer less than Kelley Blue Book?” Similarly, if you intend to offer a proposal of your own, begin by saying, “If I can make a suggestion, what if we ….” This behavior labeling draws the attention of the other party to what you are about to say and tends to draw them in to making a direct response to what you have just posed to them. This technique also serves to reduce the back and forth volleys between the parties and may enhance a more deliberative approach to the negotiation.
4. Test your understanding of the other party’s position by reflecting back what they just told you. This is another simple concept to implement. For example, returning to the car selling scenario, consider saying, “So if I understand what you are telling me, you don’t think my car is worth the Kelley Blue Book price because ….” This can be an easy way to prompt the other side to reveal more of its own thinking on the subject, without you having given away any more of yours. And, by summarizing aloud what the other party is telling you, you clarify what might otherwise have been uncertain. Your summary also communicates to the other party that you are listening to what she tells you, thereby eliciting further disclosure from her. This can help develop an attitude of mutual respect between the parties.
5. Ask questions to obtain more information as to the other party’s thinking, its goals and interests. Questions are usually more acceptable to the other party than direct disagreement and are more likely to communicate respect for the other side. Consider using what is referred to as the ‘funnel approach’ to questioning. Begin with broad, open ended questions (example: “So why is it that you are looking to purchase a car at this time?”) and proceed to narrow the questions’ scope (“What is it that you like about my car?”) until you reach the key issue (“What do you think is a fair price for this car?”).
6. Limit the reasons you cite in support of your bargaining position. Most of us tend to assume that the quality of our argument in support of a position is enhanced by the quantity of reasons we offer in support of it. In fact, successful negotiators typically offer fewer points to support their position in order to avoid diluting their impact. The downside to tossing out multiple arguments is that, invariably, one or more of the arguments will be significantly weaker than the others. The other side is then in a position to focus its rejoinder on refuting the weaker arguments and then reject your position altogether. So, when advancing a proposal or a particular position, limit yourself to just a select few points in support of it. In this instance at least, less is definitely more.
These simple techniques can be employed in almost any bargaining situation you may encounter. Make them a routine part of your negotiating repertoire, and see if you too can improve your negotiating effectiveness.
© 2/16/2016 Charles A. Ford of Hunt & Associates, P.C. All rights reserved.