How to Be a Better Negotiator

Improving negotiation skills has a big payback for business owners. We explain in simple terms how to be a better negotiator and make the most of your business negotiations.

No matter how long you've been a business owner, there's always room for improvement in your negotiation skills.

First-rate negotiation skills are a necessary part of your leadership skill set and play a role in everything from sales to employee relations.

Business owners can fall into the trap of outsourcing negotiations to others. It's helpful to know that your leadership team is capable of high-level negotiations. Yet there are many instances in which it's important for the company's leader to take the lead in negotiations. Outsourcing negotiations to subordinates can be seen as a sign of weakness, and in a worse case scenario can result in outcomes that are less-than-optimal.

Assuming you've already mastered the basics of negotiation, it's time move on to more advanced techniques. You can be a better negotiator by fine-tuning your negotiation skill set with a handful of strategies and techniques.

  • Separate interests from positions. Although you have to assume that your negotiating partner is interested is achieving the best possible outcome for his company, you also need to remind yourself that his interests don't represent his position. Like you, he has a bottom line that he will refuse to cross. Cut through his stated interests and focus on identifying his bottom line position.
  • Require objective criteria. People sometimes make wild claims during negotiations. You can improve your leverage by requiring evidence to substantiate dubious claims and by providing quantified data to support your own claims.
  • Maximize win-win. A successful negotiation isn't a win-lose proposition. If the other party feels like has been treated unfairly, he won't do business with you again in the future. As much as possible, orient your strategy toward achieving a win-win outcome, even if it means make small concessions that you're confident you could have kept.
  • Establish alternatives. The most powerful negotiators are the ones who can walk away from the process. Before you start negotiating, identify your options to minimize the impact of an unsuccessful negotiation. You don't need to hold those options over your negotiation partner's head, but it's not unreasonable to let him know that you have other alternatives.
  • Develop confidence. Confidence is the key to successful negotiating. The way you gain confidence is through experience and preparation. If your negotiating partner is more experienced than you are, you can compensate for a lack of confidence through preparation and by bouncing your negotiation strategy off a more seasoned negotiator before the negotiation process begins.

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