Negotiating skill is one of those things that many people think you either have or don’t. It’s like your height, either you are born tall or you aren’t. Or on the other hand, people will read about all sorts of high-falutin negotiating tactics that are hard enough to remember when you are by yourself let alone in the middle of a negotiation; sit in a taller chair, wait 10 seconds after making an offer without speaking, make sure your voice “downswings” at the end of a sentence, etc.
But in the end, the key when starting is to just keep it simple. Most people suck at negotiating, so it’s not like you have to become very good to become better than most.
The biggest problem most people face with negotiating is the fear of rejection. Some salespeople will even talk as if they have to go through X number of “no’s” to get a “yes” based on whatever percentage of their leads they actually convert. So every “no” — while technically accomplishing nothing — psychologically feels like moving forward. That’s at least one way to look at rejection.
Still, getting rejected sucks. But generally, it’s the fear of that rejection that’s the worst thing. I’m not talking about being rejected by a spouse or parent or someone really close to you, but in the smaller things. I mean we’re talking about stuff like negotiating the price of a piece of furniture. And with things such as that, it really shouldn’t matter if you’re rejected.
While it may be easy to tell yourself that, it’s a lot harder to actually feel that way. I certainly have by no means mastered this, but I can say it helps to consciously remind yourself beforehand of how little it will matter in a month (or in a week, or tomorrow, or in 10 minutes) if some seller gets offended because they think your offer is too low.
Imagine detaching yourself from the situation and seeing it as a neutral observer. Take the emotion out of it, as well as the potential for hurt feelings or embarrassment. If the seller gets offended or angry or rejects you, who cares?
What would that third party observer think? Watching two people negotiate a deal you have no stake in (and aren’t trying to learn from) is about as interesting as watching grass grow.
And, of course, each time it gets easier. Each time that sense of calm during negotiations will become more pronounced. At first, however, you will just have to accept the butterflies.
But what things should one actually keep in mind before going into any negotiation, no matter how trivial? Instead of focusing on a bunch of sales techniques mumbo jumbo, just keep the following three things in your mind:
- First build rapport
- Ask for what you want
- Always be willing to walk away
Building rapport is probably not necessary when negotiating the price of a t-shirt with some street vendor, but it’s very important with larger purchases. This isn’t about being manipulative, either. People want to work with and sell to people they like and trust. So be that person. Be genuinely interested in them and small talk for a bit before getting into the nitty gritty of the deal.
In other words, don’t come off as a manipulative jerk. And if you are a manipulative jerk generally speaking, well, you should probably work on that.
In the end, it helps not to look at negotiations as a win/lose exercise. You are trying to buy or sell something and the other person is trying to sell or buy something. You can still be friends with that person. After all, you are just trying to figure out whether that person is willing to come to a price that you find acceptable. Which leads us to the next point.
Ask for What You Want
Ever watch that Pawn Stars show? Notice how no matter what the person wants for whatever trinket they want to sell, Rick Harrison just responds with whatever price he wants. It’s no big deal. That’s what he’ll buy it for. Are you interested?
If you’re trying to buy a used car, for example, perhaps you think that your offer is too low and will offend the seller. So you try to start closer to the top price you’ll pay. But then you have no room to negotiate and either hit a wall in the negotiation or end up convincing yourself to go above your top price. (By the way, with any larger purchase, you should always set a top or bottom price you’re willing to go to ahead of time and stick with it.)
And I’ve noticed time and time again that most things are negotiable. Just asking, “Do you have any flexibility on price?” is all it takes to get at least some sort of discount.
So, ask for what you want.
Always Be Willing to Walk Away
Sometime back, I was traveling in South America with a good friend of mine who is fluent in Spanish. My Spanish at the time was no bueno, so I often had to rely on him when it came to communicating with the locals.
I had somehow forgotten my sunglasses back in the States, and so we went to buy a new pair at one of the various shops before exploring. I picked up the pair and asked “cuanto cuesta?” The shopkeeper told me the price, and then my friend said (in English) to ask how much he would come down. He offered a token discount. Then my friend told me to set the sunglasses down and begin to walk away. So I did. The guy grabbed my arm and cut his price again. “Ask for more,” said my friend.
When all was said and done, I bought the sunglasses for half of what they were going for and learned a bit about negotiating South American-style.
Such bartering is par for the course in Latin America, but it highlights the importance of being able to walk away. Whoever is more attached to a deal is likely to get a worse deal.
There is somewhere else you can buy that thing from. There is someone else that will want to buy whatever you are selling. And if you’re looking for investments, the next good deal will come; give it time. If you have your bottom (or top) price set before the negotiation begins, and stick by that with unrelenting fervor, you will do just fine when it comes to negotiating.
Negotiating is not an easy thing to master (and I certainly haven’t done it). For those looking for more advanced techniques, Getting to Yes and Influence are good books to check out. But as far as the foundation goes, these three things should get you started on the right path.