The Art of Negotiation is Misunderstood. Here Are Some Lesser-Known Tactics I Use to Win.
The art of negotiation is not an exact science, so there is no exact formula. However, there are some unspoken and lesser-known rules I follow that have served me well to achieve success.
So much has been written about successful (and unsuccessful) negotiation that certain universals are well established, and yet there are still other lesser-known essentials that I have learned over my 50-year career in real estate.
Perhaps the number one universal is to look for a win-win in any negotiation. Both sides have to agree to the terms and both have to gain something as a result. Other negotiating skills are building a relationship, avoiding a combative position or approach and being mindful of timing.
Other advice for successful negotiation includes reframing hard questions or ultimatums to lower the temperature, being tough when and if necessary and delaying acceptance. It is far too easy to derail a negotiation through bad timing, for example, taking something off the table too soon or offering something up too late.
And then there are things I have discovered through countless negotiations that should genuinely give you a path to success.
My "go-tos" before beginning negotiations
The most important thing for me is simply to know everything I can about the person sitting across from me. Everything. I want to know what sports they like, their career history, something about their families (spouses and children) and sometimes deeply personal facts. For example, does he or she have a spectacular business success or failure in their past?
Most people do not spend anywhere near enough time understanding who they are negotiating with. I consider it essential. When negotiations start to slow down, you can often "breakthrough" their wall by talking about what is important to them.
Knowing someone's cultural background is also critical. Some cultures really do look for a win-win, but some other cultures consider it a failure unless they see the result as a win for them and a loss for the other side. Some cultures think bargaining is natural and expected. Obviously, you have to frame things differently depending on which type of negotiator you are dealing with.
For example, you would not put your best and final offer out there when dealing with a bargainer until well along in the give-and-take of the process. They won't feel successful without having bargained and you may have given ground unnecessarily.
Besides knowing everything about the person, I want to know their "true needs" and I want to know them walking into the meeting. Are they looking to add to an enterprise, diversify, obtain something to break up or flip for a fast profit? If I know the answer to their true needs, I can usually walk away with a deal — one that is good for me, too.
Emotions matter — a lot!
Never discount the role of emotions in negotiation — and I don't mean the emotions involved in doing battle. Remember the universal that you should not approach this as combat.
Let me give you a real-life example. I once found out that the person I was going to negotiate with had lost a brother to suicide. It so happens that my brother committed suicide. This allowed us to connect in a very personal way, understanding the suffering we had endured and what it did to our parents.
The bond we formed allowed us both to concede important points in order to get the deal done. We wanted to get it done for each other's sake, as well as our own.
Other emotions to be acutely aware of are trust (yes, that is an emotion in my book), anger (obviously) and self-doubt (second-guessing can be fatal to a negotiation). You want to create a setting that evokes the best emotions of the person you are dealing with to get to success.
In addition to my real estate work, I am very involved in philanthropy, both my own and that of some very successful and very generous people whom I advise.
After deciding which issues and causes to support, and ensuring that the organizations we support enjoy good reputations and track records, then comes the negotiation.
The universals still apply — seeking a win-win, coming to mutually acceptable terms and being mindful of timing. But there are also unique aspects when negotiating major gifts.
If you donate to build a school for children with special needs, for example, you want to negotiate a contract that will prohibit using the building for other purposes or selling the building. You want to negotiate terms and lock in provisions that your gift will only be used for your stated purpose.
Do you want "naming rights" and what size donation does that entail? This, too, is a negotiation, not a predetermined equation. A donor name often has its own cachet and that has a value to factor into the negotiations.
The core of every negotiation
If you take away only one thing from my lessons, I hope it is this:
When negotiating anything – business, philanthropy or even personal – you are negotiating with a person. Lose sight of that and you are unlikely to succeed. Be acutely mindful of that and, in my experience, you are likely to succeed. and that is why I want to know everything I can about anyone with whom I negotiate.
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