10 steps to help you become a better negotiator

Whether you are dealing with your customers, staff or suppliers, successful negotiation is the key to your business running smoothly and profitably.

It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, with many of us finding it embarrassing to name our price, or feeling it is difficult to express our needs.

‘Unfortunately, honing your negotiation skills is one of those things that comes with time and practice – you have to be willing to expose yourself to those sticky conversations in order to master it,’ says Gaynor Rigby, managing partner at Equilibrium Financial Planning in Cheshire.

‘A skilled negotiator is always one who is educated on what they’re talking about and prepared to handle whichever direction the conversation heads in.’

We asked experts and business people for their top tips in how to seal a deal that leaves everyone smiling. Here are their suggestions…

Start with your goal

Simon Paine, who runs entrepreneur training business PopUp Business School, says that knowing what you want yourself is the first step towards successful negotiating.

He explains: ‘If you don’t know what you want, it is very difficult to get it. Set a clear goal before you enter any negotiation at all. How much do you want to buy or sell it for? What’s the least amount you would take? What’s the price you won’t pay? If you go into a negotiation with a clear idea of what you want out of it, you are far more likely to get it.’

Listen to customers

‘Make sure that your customers feel truly listened to. You will be in a much better place to negotiate if they feel heard,’ says infant sleep consultant and entrepreneur Rosey Davidson at Just Chill Mama (Instagram @just_chill_mama).

‘If we give the other person a chance to speak, they will give us the chance to go on a fact-finding mission and therefore we are far better informed to negotiate.’

Be as open as you can

We’re often advised to keep true needs and wishes to ourselves when negotiating, but Benjamin Johns, managing director of book subscription business How Novel says that this can lead to worse deals.

‘If you’re open with the person you are negotiating with, almost invariably they will open up, too,’ he says.

‘When they do, you get more information that you can use to get yourself to the best deal, and make informed choices about your next move.

If you keep your cards too close to your chest, as is often advised, they will do the same and nine times out of ten the resulting attempted mind-reading will end in a poorer deal for both of you.’

Be honest about what you can pay

It can be hard to say ‘I can’t afford it’ but Susanna Morgan, who runs coffee subscription business Dog & Hat, says it is best to be upfront at the outset.

‘Dog & Hat negotiate prices for coffee purchases most days, however we always show a level of respect for the supplier and do not ask for items we cannot afford or heavy discounts on the items we are purchasing,’ she says.

‘We always lead the conversation with what we can afford and how can they make that work. This has led to great working relationships with suppliers, and a real sense of team.

Our supplier goal is to get speciality coffee to more people at a great price and we have to work together to do that.’

Use this ‘give and take’ trick

Mike Donovan, from toothcare subscription business Brushbox, says that, when negotiating, it is worth remembering that it’s human nature not to value what is given for free.

Instead, he suggests, using a trick that he refers to as ‘if you… then we…’ in order to get the best deal possible.

‘Simply phrasing it such that the other party has to “do/give” something first before you then “do/give” something they want, makes it feel as if they have earned the thing that you are conceding on, which also then makes them believe they have “won” something of value,’ he explains.

‘For example, just blindly agreeing to a drop in price will not help your relationship. They will feel that you had overpriced to start and will then not value the fact that you have reduced the price, thus souring the relationship longer-term.

But by getting them to give/agree to you something in exchange for a price reduction, this makes them feel they have earned it and thus keeps the relationship on good terms and maintains a level of mutual respect.’

However, Mike warns that if you were to phrase it differently, stating ‘we will do… if you do’, this will not have the same effect.

‘In this scenario the only thing they subconsciously hear is “We will do…”, and they don’t truly register that there is a condition attached,’ he explains. ‘The order in which you request the micro-commitment matters.’

Try to see their point of view

It is easy to think you know what someone wants, says leadership coach Bianca Riemer, but it’s equally easy to misread the situation.

‘Don’t make any assumptions, even if it may seem obvious, because your assumptions may be wrong,’ she says. ‘Instead, ask them lots of open-ended questions – questions starting with what, where, when, who, how?

‘A very powerful question is “How am I supposed to do that?” It’s a brilliant question to make the other side see your point of view. The most important thing to remember is that great negotiation outcomes are always a win, and that there is no loser. Go into a negotiation with the mindset that it’s impossible to lose.’

Mind your language

Female entrepreneur mentor Kal Osahan says that changing your language can help you negotiate better.

‘It is always important to make the other party feel that their emotions/opinions are validated. There is nothing worse than feeling like no one is listening,’ she says, adding that this is true in all sorts of negotiations. Words like ‘ours’ and ‘we’ can help to achieve this.

‘You can change the dynamics by asking, “What do we want to achieve here, how can we pull these ideas together?”’ she says.

Pause when pricing

Stating a fee for your work can be nervewracking but Faye Morgan, social media training expert at 365 Day social, uses a simple trick to calm nerves.

‘If you are negotiating your fee as a freelancer, then practice saying the fee you want out loud. Then when the time comes to say your fee you will appear confident and less likely to stumble,’ she says.

‘After you say your rate or your fee, pause. Don’t carry on talking. Wait for the other person to respond next. Too many of us state the fee then try and fill in those gaps with irrelevant chatter trying to justify the fee.’

Clarify everything at the outset

Susan Francombe works as a ‘go-between’ sorting out disputes between builders and their clients (businessofbuilding.co.uk) and says that most future problems could be avoided with early clarification and negotiation upfront.

‘I’m often called in when builders and homeowners have disputes. A lot of the time the problems arise simply because what the builder thinks is obvious and part of the agreement, the homeowner doesn’t and vice versa,’ she says.

She adds that typical problems in her industry include clients assuming the builder will be on site all-day, every day, whilst the builder has planned the works in non-continuous stages, and builders assuming that they can reuse materials from a renovation when the existing material is in a much worse state than could have been anticipated.

‘My motto is “question everything,”’ she says.

Never split the difference

Compromise might seem the best way for everyone to get what he or she wants, but Karen Green, author of Recipe For Success: The Ultimate Guide To Negotiation, says that it is rarely the right decision.

‘Compromise is not a constructive solution as both parties can end up feeling unhappy or someone forced into a decision they don’t like might not be happy,’ she says.

‘If you take the example of which shoes to wear in the morning — you love the blue ones because they go with your outfit but your friend loves the purple because she knows they are much more stunning — so you discuss it a bit, weigh the pros and cons, and then because you cannot agree, you split the difference and wear one purple and one blue.

‘In general, it is not a good solution,’ she says, adding that the same goes with an employee who ends up working hard but earning less than anticipated, or a seller who agrees to split the difference but the buyer has set an unrealistic start point ‘which means the split-the-difference position is untenably high.’

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