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Speak Up

Hate to negotiate? That's still no excuse to avoid learning this skill.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

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

An entrepreneur who doesn't like to negotiate is like a chef who doesn't like to handle knives. Bargaining ability is a key business skill. If you resist learning and using it, you have a serious deficit-not just at the bargaining table, but also in life.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to like negotiating. It can be alternately petty, time-consuming, confrontational, impossibly difficult and aggravating (to name a few). What matters most, however, is why you don't like to negotiate.

Some people feel it's degrading, like they're begging the other side for scraps. As the psychotherapists say, let's reframe this: Sure, there are times when you have no power. That's when pleading, begging and whining become strategic options.

Usually, however, that's not the case. Most people can walk away from almost any deal. There's nothing demeaning about having the power to say no. Which do you prefer: negotiating or overpaying because you're too stuck-up to haggle? I doubt Bill Gates, Donald Trump or any other business icon feels that negotiating is beneath his or her dignity. Rather, they pride themselves on their skill and stamina.

For a few, the problem is systemic. These are the pathologically shy, who wilt at the prospect of any kind of confrontation-they can't get to yes, and they can't just say no. If you recognize yourself, you'll need help on two fronts. First, get someone to do your negotiating for you, because right now you're just not ready. Second, do some serious soul-searching, and find a way to change. Otherwise, you'll rarely get what you deserve, no matter what the situation.

For most people, however, the problem is not about some organic weakness in their psyches. It's the natural awkwardness of facing a new opponent or a new situation. The solution is simple: Learn and practice new skills. Ask a colleague to coach you. Thumb through one of the many good books on negotiation. Take a seminar. Bring someone along to pump you up or step in if you get stuck. Make an ongoing commitment to become a better negotiator. Even the average consumer can save many thousands of dollars over a lifetime if he or she has a few good moves at the bargaining table.

Above all, try to have fun. It's just a game. My very first negotiation took place at the proverbial open market in Morocco (no kidding). I was more than just reluctant-I was scared. But my buddy egged me on. I bickered and dickered, stormed out a few times, and ultimately got what I wanted at a small fraction of the asking price. It was fun. I saved some dough. But the best part was the boost to my self-esteem and skill set for successful living. That was truly priceless.

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

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