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The Green Sheet Online Edition

June 22, 2009 • Issue 09:06:02

Negotiate to get your way

By Vicki M. Daughdrill
Small Business Resources LLC

Did you and a companion decide where to go for dinner last weekend? Did you and your teenager discuss driving rules or curfews? Did you interview for a position recently and discuss salary requirements? Or did you make a presentation to a prospect and close a sale? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you engaged in negotiations.

Are you surprised? According to Merriam-Webster Inc.'s online dictionary, "negotiate" means "to deal with (some matter or affair that requires ability for its successful handling)" or "to arrange for or bring about through conference, discussion, and compromise ..."

Negotiation occurs in all aspects of life, including the commercial, nonprofit, government, education, personal, legal and international relations spheres.

Most of us negotiate daily without recognizing that we are doing so. It may be an uncomplicated negotiation such as where to go for lunch or a complex contract negotiation to close a sale.

Many of us do not anticipate the situations that will require negotiations, and most of us simply don't know how to negotiate well. We did not learn negotiation skills in school. Many people believe negotiation is an intuitive art, and if we didn't get the gist of it in kindergarten, we are destined to be mediocre negotiators, at best, throughout our lives.

However, if you can come to view negotiation as merely something you practice on a daily basis, you can improve your skills and become highly proficient at it, no matter what your background.

Traits of talented negotiators

Good negotiators all exhibit certain characteristics. Following are traits that skilled practitioners of the art share:

  • Great attitude: Consummate negotiators come to the table with a positive outlook and an expectation of winning.

    They understand there are three basics to the negotiation process: preparation, negotiation and closing. They recognize a cooperative attitude can create a cooperative opponent and a smooth resolution to business negotiations.

  • Open-minded, fair approach: Skilled negotiators understand that successful negotiations result in a win-win situation for both parties; they realize everything is negotiable, and they must be flexible and willing to compromise to achieve their objectives.

  • Excellent communication ability: Effective negotiators have exceptional communication skills. They listen actively, have the ability to persuade others, can overcome objections, exhibit an outstanding memory, and can think and respond quickly to issues that arise. They ask questions, restate what they hear and demonstrate an understanding of the situation.

  • Superior organization and attention to detail: Top-notch negotiators know how to organize their materials and presentations. They determine how much detail to provide in the first offer and how to adapt to desires of the opposite party to make subsequent offers. They evaluate all of their materials to assure they are first rate and accurately reflect the intended offer.

    They plan every phase of an offer, detailing an introduction, an offer and a close. They understand exactly where they are willing to end the negotiation and focus on that result throughout the entire process.

  • Focus and ability to be engaged: The best negotiators focus on the desired outcome, look below the surface to understand objections and remain involved throughout the process.

    They do not allow their minds to wander or focus on unimportant things because they know this creates an environment in which they could lose control of the discussion. They explore options and find the proper solution to achieve a win-win resolution.

  • Ability to manage stress: Premier negotiators recognize stress can be both a positive and negative factor, and they learn to tap into good stress to remain sharp and alert. They avoid negative stress, knowing it could make them nervous and ineffective by hampering their ability to think logically and cohesively, lessening their capacity to think quickly and overcome objections.

How to improve negotiating skills

An accomplished negotiator understands the three basics to the negotiation process: preparation, negotiation and closing. Following are several actions you can take to prepare for a negotiation. These steps can be used equally well in many contexts: formal and informal, simple and complex, and business and personal.

  • Educate yourself about the problem or activity at hand. Learn as much as you can, and be sure to acquire as much information as possible about both sides of the issue.

  • Assess any potential leverage you may have, as well as the leverage held by the opposing party. Identify ways to improve your position or minimize the leverage of the other party. Take whatever actions you can to improve your leverage.

  • Identify the issues. Are they unique, or have you faced these issues previously? What was the past resolution?

  • Determine how, where, when and who will do the actual negotiating.

  • Establish a relationship with your opponent. Determine if the negotiation will be cooperative or adversarial, and consider engaging a mediator if necessary.

  • If legal counsel, a mediator or some other professional is needed to assist with the negotiation, make sure to procure the necessary services well in advance of the actual negotiation.

  • Determine the type of negotiation and the strategies you will use. Will the negotiation be done face to face, via fax, through a mediator or in some other manner?

  • Establish acceptable expectations, acknowledging that goals and expectations are sometimes different things.

  • Consider your opening offer and what ensuing offers you are willing to make.

  • Recognize what compromises you are prepared to accept.

  • Identify any possible costs. Every negotiation has expenses, and the type of negotiation you face will determine both their nature and extent.

Negotiating applied to sales

If your upcoming negotiation is a sales closing, educate yourself about the prospect. Determine who the decision maker is and how you will conduct the negotiation. Does he or she currently use a service or product similar to the one you are selling? If so, obtain all available, useful information on the merchant's current vendor.

Next, identify your distinctive competencies. Will you sell on price, service, a combination of both or some other feature? Identify where you will meet with the decision maker, the type of sales pitch you will use, what your initial offer will be and what final offer you are willing to make to close the deal. Obviously, the goal is to close the sale, but identify other expectations you have as well.

Finally, during the closing phase, identify what documents will need to be prepared, and determine who will prepare them. Then implement the final resolution. If it is a simple negotiation, remember, the process is not complete until the paperwork is finalized and the agreement is executed. Execution means equipment installation, staff training and acknowledgment of the sale.

The next time you are faced with a situation that requires discussion and decision making, consider using your negotiating skills to achieve your desired outcome. Whether it is bargaining with your spouse, your child, a prospective employer, a potential employee or a client, a skilled negotiator can always achieve win-win results. end of article

Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. E-mail her at vickid@netdoor.com or call her at 601-310-3594.

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