Life is a Negotiation

In business as in life, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate,” said Chester L. Karrass, author and negotiation guru. Those words have never been more poignant than in recent times.


Sitting on the train, free commuter tabloid in hand, I notice a clear theme to the issues of the day: front pages carry the latest response to Brexit negotiations, back pages awash with football transfer negotiations while the centre pages dish out advice on negotiating a salary increase in the current economic climate.


As a trainer and coach, I find negotiation skills are rising rapidly up the development agenda for many organisations.  The reasons are manifold: clients want more for less; a desire to attract and retain the best employees for competitive advantage; the need to stretch budgets in the face of austerity – to name but a few.


Drawing on my experiences from the training room and indeed, life itself, I thought I’d share some tips that may be helpful, whatever negotiations you face:


  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want 

It sounds simple but this is often the first stumbling block.  Good negotiators are clear and assertive when expressing their wants and needs. They do it in a non-threatening way that ensures the other party understands what is important to them. Note: there is a big difference between being assertive (expressing your own needs while maintaining respect for those of others) and being aggressive.


  1. Seek a win-win outcome

Negotiation is not just about getting what you want. It’s about doing so while also trying to meet the needs of others. This is vital if we are to preserve relationships that could lead to future business, deliver additional benefits or build advocacy.  A winning outcome for one party, to the substantial detriment of the other, rarely leads to long term gain or satisfaction.


  1. Show the other party how their needs will be met

Successful negotiators look at the situation from the other side’s perspective. Everyone looks at the world differently, so you are way ahead of the game if you can figure out their perception of the deal. Instead of trying to win the negotiation, seek to understand the other negotiator and show them ways to feel satisfied.


  1. Don’t give away without getting something in return

Unilateral concessions are not only a missed opportunity, they tend to undermine your position and lead the other party to expect yet further concessions.  If you are giving something up (and you’ll need to from time to time) make sure there is a string attached. ‘I’ll do this, if you can do that’.  This helps to ensure you meet in the middle (the win-win) and makes the other party value the concession because they have, in essence, had to earn it.


  1. Silence is golden 

We’ve all been there. When presenting someone with an option (price, idea, etc.), they respond with silence. It may only last a few seconds, but in that timeframe, we feel compelled to say something – something that is usually designed to sweeten the deal. That’s right, the other party hasn’t asked for anything and yet we are doing their job for them before they have uttered a word. For this reason, silence is a well proven negotiation technique. So, make sure it works for you and not against you. If you feel compelled to say something when on the receiving end of the silent treatment, ask “What do you think?” or “Is there anything I can clarify for you?” not “I can do it for £100 less…”


  1. Shut up and listen!

Following my previous point, I’m always amazed at how much people talk when in a negotiation. In doing so, they begin to give away all sorts of clues about their position, their wants and needs and, in many cases, hidden agendas that the other party can ultimately manipulate should they wish to do so.  Good negotiators ask well considered, probing questions and then listen to the answers intently. Remember, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Aim to listen twice as much as you talk and you will be surprised at what you can uncover.


  1. Preparation enhances performance

Preparation falls into two main categories. First, we need to understand as much as possible about the other party – their situation, motivations, needs and pressures. This helps us ascertain the areas that are ‘moveable’ and those that are potential ‘deal breakers’. Second, we need to get our self into the best position to perform. Being clear about what you will and won’t give up, the terminology you will use, the alternatives that might be available and so on, all put you in a stronger position from which to negotiate and enhance your likelihood of success.


  1. Know your value

I spend a lot of time working with creative service businesses whose value is almost entirely represented by their people.  Many fail to recognise their value, or rationalise it away before they even get to the negotiation stage. On this theme, there is an oft-quoted anecdote we should keep in mind: Picasso was sitting in a café. A lady and gentleman sat down at the adjacent table. Recognising Picasso and being a fan of his work, the lady approached and asked if he would be so kind as to draw a quick sketch for her on a table napkin. Picasso duly obliged, creating a beautiful image in moments. As he handed the napkin back to her, the lady was surprised when Picasso didn’t release it, but instead asked for a substantial sum of money. Visibly shocked, she acknowledged that it was a beautiful image, but commented that she didn’t see how it could cost so much when it only took a few minutes to draw. Picasso responded, “No madam, it took me a lifetime to be able to produce it.”


  1. Don’t take it personally

Negotiations can be challenging and often emotions run high.  The other party might seem unreasonable, display behaviours that make negotiation difficult, or just have a personality that rubs you up the wrong way. Good negotiators tend to have high levels of emotional intelligence and resilience – that is, the ability to recognise, understand and manage the behaviours of others and remain focused on the goal – to achieve a win-win outcome.


  1. Know when to walk away  

Despite all the above and your best efforts, it’s not always possible to achieve a win-win. In these situations, to coin a popular Brexit phrase, “No deal may be better than a bad deal.”



Richard Baines is a trainer, coach and HR consultant for The Amber Group.