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Bulking Up

A little training each day helps you pump up your game at the bargaining table.

When I was young, I dreamed of becoming a classical musician. I spent countless hours mastering scales, arpeggios and the like. When I sat down to play tough pieces, all those finger exercises really paid off. Can deal-makers improve their negotiating chops through daily practice? I think so. Here's what I suggest:

  • Listen.
  • Any decent book on communication skills will tell you how truly difficult it is to be a good listener. It doesn't come naturally. Pick somebody each day to practice on. You already know the drill: Don't interrupt; don't judge; don't go away on a mental holiday. I don't know about you, but I almost always pick up great business intelligence when I really listen.
  • Learn to be a good conversationalist.
  • Ask open-ended questions-the ones that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Hint: They begin with how, why, what, who, where or when. This is how to gauge your opponents' vulnerabilities and ferret out their underlying interests.
  • Be obnoxious to someone.
  • Find someone annoying to practice on, like a telemarketer. Perhaps you'll question my maturity, but being petulant and irascible has its time and place at the bargaining table. You won't use this tool often, but it's nice to have on your belt. And this kind of role-playing experience will give you great perspective when you invariably find yourself on the receiving end.
  • Continue your education.
  • There are lots of great books on negotiation. Read one. No matter how experienced you are, you'll probably learn a technique or two that's either new or something you haven't used in awhile. Find a situation to practice it. This is how to expand your repertoire.
  • Flinch and make a counteroffer.
  • Flinch and make a counteroffer. Flinch and make a counteroffer. Make it like a basketball drill. There's definitely an athletic component to good bargaining. Reaction time can be critical. So hone those haggling reflexes 'til they become second nature.
  • Agree with everything someone says.
  • Disagree with everything someone says. How does it feel? What makes you edgy? How is the other person reacting? At what point are they getting torqued? Negotiation is give and take, push and pull. Being able to sense your own thermometer as well as the other guy's is an advantage.
  • Make an outrageous demand.
  • Sometimes deal-makers need to be aggressive and audacious. They need to move beyond their comfort zones and test the limits. Bluff. Bluff, big time. Ask for the moon and the stars. Nobody's gonna get hurt.

When one famous violinist was hailed as an overnight sensation, he said: "I practiced for 20 years, and now they call me a genius." Do your daily deal-making exercises, and someday, you, too, will play your opponent like a Stradivarius.


A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Diener is author of Deal Power.

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This article was originally published in the February 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bulking Up.

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