Back when I practiced law (no longer, thank you very much!) I would negotiate on a daily basis. And while I was pretty good at it, some of the jerks, err, I mean opposing counsel, I dealt with were masters. And, like attorneys, small business people negotiate all the time. Whether it’s trying to get a vendor to lower his prices or working out a deal with a client, negotiating is part and parcel of a small business life. So, yes, I do have a few thoughts on successful negotiations and negotiators.
Here are a few of my favorite tips:
Start slow, if possible: It sometimes takes a while to get a feel for the person you will be negotiating with, and if time permits, it is generally a good idea to get your feet wet before jumping in. Try and get a sense of their style, whether they seem like a bluffer or not, and how tough they are. Not everyone likes to negotiate or is good at it. Don’t assume your “adversary” is either a good or bad negotiator; instead try and learn the facts first.
Come in over-prepared: The more you know about the other side and the facts, the better equipped you are to get what you want. For instance, say that you are negotiating a lease in a new building. If you don’t know what the vacancy rate is, if you don’t know what comparable rents in the area go for, if you do not know how long the space has been vacant, it will be hard to get a good deal.
He who offers first, loses: A well known strategy yes, but still important to remember. Typically, when you make the first offer, you are setting an upper limit on what you can get. For instance, if you want a raise and tell your boss that you want $5,000 more a year, you will never find out that her budget would have allowed you to get $7,500 more. So try and not make the first offer.
Have some good tactics ready: There are all sorts of negotiating techniques that you can use to your advantage:
- Silence: This is one of my favorites. When offered a number you do not like, instead of responding, instead say nothing . . . continue to say nothing . . . if the other side talks first, it will likely be to raise the offer and break the uncomfortable silence.
- Flinch: An “involuntary” flinch is likewise used to make the offeror uncomfortable with the offer. Any sort of similar “shocked” response may work in the right circumstances.
- Good cop / bad cop: This age-old strategy does work. The good cop earns the other side’s trust by being reasonable talking about what a jerk the bad cop is. He can then make offers or offer rejections that the bad cop cannot.
Remember it is a negotiation: Their job is to get what they want. They may ask for the sun and be willing to settle for the moon. Do not take it personally. By the same token, build some room into your offer so that they feel like they are getting something too.
Be willing to walk: The willingness to walk away from the deal or table is the key to a strong negotiating position. This is the real leverage in any negotiation.