Despite the best efforts of some of the world’s best academics and practitioners to develop winning strategies, there is no universal set of irrefutable rules governing the complex process of negotiation. We do know, however, that good negotiators must be flexible. They must walk a fine line between domination and appeasement, embracing a range of proven behaviors including the following…

1. Know exactly what you want and draw two lines.

This is the key. Determine your bottom line position before beginning negotiation, by identifying your goal specifically, with dates, numbers, prices, and so on. Imagine yourself drawing this proverbial ‘line in the sand’ and then drawing a second line a few steps in advance of it. The second will be the line at which you begin negotiations. In this way, at worst, you’ll be negotiated back to your first line in the sand.

2. Make sure this person can say yes.

Negotiation can be a long and protracted process. You don’t really want to get into a situation where, after many hours of negotiation, the other party has to OK with a superior an agreement you have worked long and hard to negotiate. So how do you know if this person can negotiate the deal? Just ask. Do whatever you can to negotiate directly with the person who can say yes.

3. Enter negotiations with a win-win attitude.

If you win at the expense of the other party, the deal will invariably return to haunt you. Continually adopt a win-win attitude because the only truly successful negotiation is one in which both parties believe their needs have been met.

4. Apply proven strategies.

Bearing in mind that you’ll want to secure the best deal for yourself without making the other side feel that it has lost, consider these strategies for clinching the deal:

  • Always allow yourself negotiating space by asking for more than you expect to get – you might just get it!
  • Resist the first offer – you can’t have the other side thinking they were too generous.
  • Learn to flinch – your reaction, real or sham, will be noticed and perhaps encourage concessions.
  • Be a reluctant seller – your perceived caution will encourage a higher offer.
  • Look for ways of solving the other side’s problems first – and then sit back and watch them meet your demands because they’ll be wanting you to follow through on your end of the deal.
  • Talk about the potential for future deals (or lack thereof) – by ensuring the other side sees the long-term benefits of sealing the deal this time.

5. Apply pressure by playing games.

A great deal of successful negotiation is game-playing. Try these games:

  • Play Dumb – a game that allows you room and time to manoeuvre. You might indicate your agreement with the deal but state you will have to pass it by a higher authority. Return the next day with the news that the higher authority wants more concessions.
  • Time Trap – a power game exploiting the fact that the closer you get to the deadline the greater the possibility of concessions being offered. When both sides are facing the same deadline, the least powerful side is going to feel the greater time pressure.
  • Goodies and Baddies – a game that shifts the blame to another, leaving you smelling like roses. You indicate that you want to do the deal but your partner or boss won’t buy it. Apologise and suggest concessions from the other side that may get the negotiations back on track.
  • That’s It – a game of bluff in which you walk away from a deal, either forever or to encourage the other side to make concessions. It is never a ‘take it or leave it’ ultimatum. Be prepared to say, ‘I’m sorry, we won’t be doing business after all.’ And if they come back to you, don’t drop everything to restart negotiations – over-eagerness could lose the day for you.

6. Make power your partner.

Negotiations are power games. Try using these five main sources of power, either separately or combined:

Legitimate or positional power – achieved through symbols like titles, address, physical presentation, and office setting. Exploit all of those symbols, but guard against falling for their’s.

Reward power – achieved by the other side knowing what they will get from doing business with you. Make sure they know what’s in it for them.

Coercive power – achieved by the other side knowing that they lose out by not doing business with you. Third-party testimonials can be extremely coercive.

Reverent power – achieved when others know that there are some things you will never deviate from – your core values, for example. You can always be relied upon to respond in a particular way.

Situation power – achieved when one side only has the power. Ever tried to get the attendant at the ticketing counter to provide you with a pre-booked ticket when you have no identification?

7. Remember also…

  • Never make a concession without getting one in return.
  • Focus on needs, not on personalities. Keep egos out of it.
  • Never enter negotiations when everyone knows you have to pull off the deal – it’s the worst possible time. If you don’t have the luxury of negotiating well in advance, then at least feign a lack of urgency.
  • Establish a clear and specific agreement that leaves no room for confusion or reneging.
  • A deal is made, not won.

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