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Bulking Up

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

This story appears in the February 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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.

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