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Hangin' Tough

How to beef up your negotiating game

Just as strong is the word we often use to describe good coffee, tough is the word we often use to describe good negotiators. There's a definite advantage to being known this way; it immediately reduces your opponent's expectations. Some may soften, others will try harder; but in this competitive world of business, they will all respect you for not being a soft touch.

Toughness is partly about your game face, but it's also about technique. When you're called on, or choose, to take the hard line, here are some ways to strengthen your game:

  • Don't talk too much. Be terse. The less you say, the less you reveal about your own position. The less you say, the more you can listen for weaknesses or opportunities.

Use the power of silence-it tends to make the other side uncomfortable. In fact, many would rather tell you where the treasure is buried than tolerate these awkward moments.

  • Be stingy with your concessions. It can really grind your opponents down. Make them work for their supper. They may tire or skip dessert, the appetizer or even the main course altogether.

If you must give, give just a little, and get something back in return-even if it's their agreement to take an issue off the table.

  • Be firm. No means no. As they say in the movies, "Resistance is futile." If you don't want to give a point, make your opponents feel like they just hit the wall. You will not be perceived as a jerk, so long as you offer a plausible explanation for your position.
  • Stake out issues that are non-negotiable.
  • This is classic. By framing an issue this way, you make it twice as hard on the other side. Before you even address their concern, they must first persuade you to entertain it.
  • Don't care too much. Desire is the fulcrum at the bargaining table. Persuading your opponents that their deal just ain't that important is the ultimate attitude adjustment.They will not pester you with unending demands if they sense you're 30 seconds away from blowing them off.
  • Keep things moving. Don't let your opponents backtrack on you. Once an issue is settled, it's settled. Be supremely efficient and businesslike. Your opponents must feel that your time is precious and that you do not suffer fools at all.
  • Play to your advantage. If you've got more experience, make sure your opponents know it. If you can crush them with your card file, drop a few names. If you know your opponents are in a hurry, take your time.
  • Stay focused. In detailed negotiations, mental stamina is a tremendous asset. Victory goes to the dogged. It's just like sports. Stay strong through the finish. The last person standing at the bargaining table is the one with the greatest power of concentration.

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 August 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hangin' Tough.

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