Great Negotiations

By Heather Baldwin

Say the word “negotiation” and most people will conjure a vision of a tense boardroom with high-powered executives duking it out over a big contract, or a stubborn labor union going head-to-head with their equally stubborn managers. In fact, simply labeling a meeting as a negotiation can cause even the most seasoned sales manager to get sweaty palms and a fluttery stomach, says John Patrick Dolan, a criminal defense attorney, keynote speaker and author of Negotiate Like the Pros (Perigee Books, 1992). To overcome your fear of negotiation, says Dolan, start by overcoming these common myths about the process:

1. Negotiating is synonymous with fighting. In truth, fights tend to break out only when people can’t negotiate effectively, says Dolan. If you approach negotiation as a battle, then that’s exactly what you’ll get. You’ll waste time staking out territory, defending positions and viewing the prospect as an adversary rather than a partner. Instead, think of negotiation as a conversation between you and the prospect aimed at reaching a common goal.

2. To negotiate effectively, you must have the upper hand. Not so. When you come from a position of perceived weakness, such as a sales rep trying to make a sale, you can use a questioning technique to assert control over the conversation and the relationship. Say you’re meeting with a prospect for the first time. You might say something like, “Mr. Jones, I know we might have the opportunity to do business with each other, but I want to make sure we’ll be a good fit for you. The only way I can determine that is if I can ask you a few questions.” Then with his permission go on to ask him about his needs, his current supplier and so on. “The people answering your questions think they’re in control of the conversation,” says Dolan. In reality, you’re in control.

3. When you sit down at the bargaining table, you must abandon all ethics to get what you want. Not true! Getting what you want doesn’t mean stealing it from others, says Dolan. It means using all the available information intelligently and assertively. Consider negotiating for a new job. You can use the compensation package offered by one company to negotiate with other potential employers, motivating the prospective employer to make an improved salary and benefit offer. “It’s not unusual for a difference in two people’s earnings to be the result of their individual negotiating skills rather than their experience,” Dolan observes.

4. Negotiation is always a formal process with clearly defined parameters and procedures. In reality, negotiation can take many forms. If you and your spouse are deciding who’s going to prepare dinner and who’s going to clean it up, you’re negotiating. If the customer asks for a 10% discount and you counter that you can give him a 3% discount for repeat business, you’re negotiating. In fact, if you think about negotiation simply as a process of understanding people and discovering ways you can work together to produce a positive outcome for everyone, you’ll find you’re probably negotiating constantly in all areas of your life.

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