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OLD-SCHOOL SALESPEOPLE TALK of a negotiating tactic known as “the bathroom.” It goes something like this: Give the other side a lot of water and high-fiber food, limit their access to the bathroom and then just keep talking at them, maintaining the pressure. In the end, they will buckle, acquiescing to a deal hugely advantageous to you.

Tales of such tactics don’t really ring true — was there not a bathroom at the end of every hallway way back in the day? — but they do point to something at the heart of traditional negotiating: It’s a power game. Leverage is key. One side must lose for the other to win. Zero-sum.

William Ury and Roger Fisher’s Getting to Yes, first published 32 years ago, gets credit for helping to revolutionize the art of negotiation. Not only did they advocate for a more amicable approach but argued that the whole way we thought — and some still think — about the subject was wrong. According to the two Harvard University professors, natural instinct encourages us to engage in “positional bargaining,” which involves adopting a position, arguing for it, then making concessions until reaching a compromise. As egos become involved and people identify themselves with their stand, the whole thing gets antagonistic and messy. A better approach, Ury and Fisher said, was to “change the game” to one where opponents “see themselves working side by side, attacking the problem, not each other.”

Most people today agree that focusing on win-win works best, but in the pet industry it seems many don’t have confidence in their ability to get there. When asked to rate their negotiating skills from 1 (poor) to 5 (masterful), nearly 50% of the PETS+ Brain Squad — our 1,500-plus-strong reader survey panel of independent pet retailers and service providers — chose 1, 2 or 3. The cost of subpar negotiating skills adds up. According to some estimates, U.S. businesses lose well over $100 million per hour due to a lack of proficiency in the area. It’s not just the money left on the table. Badly negotiated deals result in unexplored opportunities, inefficiencies, lower-quality work, increased staff turnover, lingering disputes and resentments, legal conflicts … the list goes on.

While some people do seem to have a natural affinity for reading a room and the poise and temperament to successfully engage with even aggressive people, most of the skills related to negotiation can be learned. And the payoffs are significant, especially for small-business owners when so much in the marketplace already works against you. Negotiation skills can help secure better deals with suppliers, customers, partners and employees. They can help resolve conflicts, create value and build trust. Moreover, they can boost business prospects by increasing credibility, reputation and influence.

The key to any successful negotiation starts with identifying the situation correctly: Is it a one-off commercial transaction that involves little more than bargaining over price? Is it an internal negotiation with employees, family members or partners where the relationship is paramount (these are by far the toughest)? Or is it a more complex engagement that involves building a potentially long-term business relationship? Only in the first does the size of the pie remain more or less fixed — one party’s gain in terms of a lower price paid results is the other’s loss. In the second and third, it’s about finding a solution that will ideally create additional value and then distributing that value among the two sides.

“My experience is you do best when you figure out how the other side wins,” Joel Peterson, a former JetBlue chairman and author of The 10 Laws of Trust, says. “The goal in negotiations should be to create value for all parties. That doesn’t mean being a doormat or capitulating; it means there is no point in beating the other parties into submission or making them feel like losers. If the other side benefits and you walk away satisfied, you’ve created two winners. Strengthening your relationship with the other party can also lead to more business, referrals, a stronger brand and more lasting agreements.”

Sal Salafia of Exotic Pet Birds in Webster, NY, negotiates in this way. He works to structure deals that give vendors high levels of brand ambassadorship and sales while increasing profits for his store.

“As the buyer for our company, I have found that loyalty responds with loyalty. We have always limited the amount of vendors we bring into the store that do the same thing. This has allowed us to buy bigger volumes and to become better representatives of the brand because we bring in every single item they make; and we also know the product lines better than anyone because we learn them better being around them all the time. In doing all of this, we get the best pricing and awesome marketing agreements from these vendors, who want to see our continued success with their lines.”

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Harvard professor Ury, also noting most negotiations take place in the context of long-term relationships, compares it to a marriage. “If you are always asking: ‘Who’s winning this marriage?’, the marriage is in serious trouble.” It may be instructive, he says, to “remember the Chinese billionaire who made his fortune by always giving his business partners a little more than he took for himself; everyone wanted to be his partner, and they made him rich.”

Such a collaborative approach entails creativity, building trust and sharing interests. It also means being assertive, fair, patient, and aware of the strategies and techniques employed by other negotiators, all of which we’ll cover here.

And every negotiation differs, with the art of deal-making including many contradictions: Be likeable/Don’t make offers to be likeable; Make the first offer/Never make the first offer; Reveal something important to build trust/Never give away useful information for free … It requires a flexible mind, and perhaps most of all an almost superhuman control of emotion.

As a founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, Ury came up with four principles to guide all negotiations. The very first: “Separate the people from the problem.” In other words, your proposal will be scrutinized, not you. Be soft on the person, hard on the problem, Ury likes to say. Get that wrong — by being abrasive or overly accommodating — and the result is poor, no deal done or a strained relationship.

(His other three principles: 1. Focus on interests, not positions. 2. Generate options for mutual gain 3. Insist on using objective criteria.)

In the following pages, we present insights from business authors, your fellow pet indies, psychology, neuroscience and recent research that will provide you with practical strategies to help you feel more comfortable when negotiating. And hopefully, you’ll take note when someone next offers you water for the fifth time during a deal meeting, seeing a bottle more than half full, confidently smiling and saying, “Ah, the old bathroom tactic” before declaring, “OK, how about we try to find some shared value here.”

01. PREP A NEGOTIATING BRIEF

Before you begin negotiations, have ready:

Industry benchmarks for key numbers (prices, minimum orders, rents, fees, etc., whichever apply). “This removes (the factor) from the subjective and places it firmly in the realm of the objective, and then everyone can agree that the outcome is fair,” skills trainer Simon Horton, author of Negotiation Mastery, says. People will be swayed by market “authority.”

Katherine Ostiguy of Crossbones in Providence, RI, shares how she conducts research before discussing a deal.

“I use social media, especially Reddit and Facebook groups, to find out what other small-business owners have negotiated in that particular space — whether it’s creditcard processing, retail ISOs, bank loans, new employee compensation, etc. So often, someone will write about an angle I’ve never even considered. I recently negotiated better credit card processing fees and came prepared not only with a counteroffer from a competitor, but also used social media to find out from other small-business owners how the negotiation process went. It was smooth sailing: Our processor went above and beyond the counteroffer!”

  • Your defensible opening offer. The key word here is “defensible.” If you start too aggressively, you lose credibility and trust. So think big, yes, but be sure you can make a substantive case for your first offer because you want to be taken seriously on every offer that follows.
  • Your bargaining agenda. Perhaps as the buyer you’ll offer 65% at first, then 85%, then 95% and 100% of the asking price, but under what terms and conditions? Also consider what your final offer will be — preferably it includes a non-monetary item that shows you are at your limit.
  • Your response to their opening offer. Get ready to deflect the punch. Rehearse what you’ll say: “I’m afraid that won’t work for us, but …” / “Let’s put price off to the side for a moment and talk about what would make this a good deal.” / “What else would you be able to offer to make that a good price for me?”
  • Concessions. You need at least one — no seasoned negotiator will accept your first offer. What can you offer them? What can you extract for everything you give? Try to ascertain what non-monetary items are likely to be important to them — size of order, price or an endorsement?
  • Answers to their curveballs. What will be your response if they say something like: “Tell me the absolute maximum you’d be willing to pay and I’ll see if I can shave off a bit.” (The correct answer in this case would be to laugh and say, “Tell me the absolute minimum you’d be willing to accept and I’ll see if I can add a bit.”) Get with your team and brainstorm answers to the questions you don’t want to answer.

02. KNOW YOUR ‘OPPONENT’

“Researching the people you’re negotiating with is crucial, whether it’s a company or your next-door neighbor,” Clive Rich, a corporate negotiator and author of The Yes Book, says. “Then moderate your behavior accordingly. There are observable types we all recognize — for example, the big picture thinker, the detail fiend. Try tuning into their wavelength.”

03. HAVE A PLAN B

Behind every great plan stands a not-as-great-but-still-acceptable Plan B. In negotiating circles, it’s known as a “best alternative to a negotiated agreement,” or BATNA. It gives you clarity, confidence, leverage and a benchmark. Moreover, it protects the downside. (Possible BATNAs include going with another supplier or customer, dropping the project altogether or going to court.) “The definition of a successful negotiation is satisfying your interests better than your BATNA could,” Ury says.

By having as her BATNA to look at other commercial real estate, Errin Jolley of Purrz and Paws in St. Helens, OR, saved on the opening costs of a new store.

“We were in the process of re-writing the lease for our new location. I decided to walk away from the property because they kept throwing obstacles at me. Two days later, they responded and wanted to drop $11,000 off the original build-out quote. I was happy with that. I got the ‘yes’ I wanted.”

04. WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A BATNA, FAKE IT

Alternatives give negotiators the confidence to push hard for better outcomes, and to walk away from the table when needed. So what do you do when you have no alternative? Imagine one. A paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found not surprisingly that negotiators with a strong BATNA did much better than those with no options. But interestingly, those told to imagine they had an alternative when they did not have one did almost as well. Thinking positively matters.

05. SHIFT PERSPECTIVES

Also give hard thought to what the other side’s BATNA might be. Not only does it allow you to consider strategic responses, but perhaps more importantly it “really helps you assess the whole thing and you’re not just thinking my agenda, my agenda, my agenda. Here’s what I want: price, term, remedies, warranty. Well, go in and think about what is the lay of the land for the other party, and that helps,” Peterson says. Such an approach hints at one of the secrets of negotiating: You can often extract more value by focusing on the other side’s needs. “Understanding the other party’s needs and wants enables you to propose a solution and a story that justifies your solution so well that makes it nearly impossible for the other party to disagree with,” he adds.

06. PREPARE EMOTIONALLY

“It’s important to visualize all the different ways the negotiating process can unfold and prepare appropriate emotional responses that keep the negotiation moving,” notes a primer on negotiation from UC Berkeley. How will you respond if they come on strong? Give you a gift? How would you react if they offer you mints, implying your breath is bad? “Being poised and stable makes asking for what you want and saying ‘no’ much easier,” the Berkeley paper notes. If you’re prone to jitters, reframe the anxiety as excitement, focus on the upside — what you could win, not lose — with a successful deal, see yourself in the third person … whatever psychological tricks work for you.

When negotiating with customers, one option may be to remove emotion altogether, Amber Sutfin of Pet Wants South Hills in Pittsburgh, PA, suggests.

“Before being an indie pet store owner, I owned a life-coaching business and still use that skill set with customers. One of the tenets was, ‘Don’t be attached to the outcome,’ and that’s how I talk to customers. I listen, educate and offer solutions without attachment to the outcome. It’s an extremely effective selling tool, as it prevents me from coming across as pushy or desperate.”

07. MAKE SURE YOU’RE NEGOTIATING WITH THE RIGHT PERSON

Negotiating lore is full of stories of people who tried cutting a deal with the powerless underling or conversely didn’t realize the “clerk” setting up the projector was actually the CEO. Make sure the person you’re negotiating with has the authority to approve a deal or give you a discount. For example, in negotiations with a family-run business, it may not be clear who is the real power holder. Notes Dan Pink in his MasterClass on selling and persuasion: “The person speaking the most is not always the person with the most power. You have to keenly observe the number of people to whom people look towards or address when they talk. The person with the most power to influence a decision is the one who most people address.”

08. BE LIKEABLE

While your goal should be respect, not affection, being likeable — even an affable rogue — is a great asset at the negotiation table. “Other people may hate what you’re offering them, or know that they’re not getting the best negotiated deal, but if they cannot find a reason to hate you, they will like you, and you will get more out of your negotiations more frequently,” Peterson says. Connecting on a human level creates positive emotions that allow you and your counterpart to trust, be creative and take risks with ideas. Being likeable doesn’t mean you give away value at the negotiating table. It does mean you invest time in building relationships, use rapport (find affiliations, shared interests) and reveal your humanity (sharing professional mistakes is always a surefire way to show you’re human). A few minutes of chitchat before getting down to business also allows you to observe people in less guarded moments, and maybe even their readiness to close.

Adina Silberstein of Queenie’s Pets in Philadelphia, PA, leads with this tactic, and can point to awards won for her negotiating style in business school — plus strong vendor relationships and a profitable store — as proof of its success. She combines likability with strength.

“The key is to be approachable and friendly, yet do not waiver in what you want. Be very clear and use positive language, and just keep re-stating what your expected outcome is. Experienced negotiators will try to dance their way around a matter, and you just keep bringing them back to the main point. Make it clear you need to get to a conclusion because your time is valuable, so ‘Let’s just get to the bottom line here.’ Also, always acknowledge all of the positive things the other person is doing in a genuine way. People see through BS really easily.”

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09. JUST ASK

“If you don’t ask, the answer is always no” is a central tenet of negotiating. Amy Schiek of Lucky Dogs in Skaneateles, NY, advises not to assume the worst — just ask. “Sometimes we build up scenarios in our mind for why the person will say no, rather than just having a conversation and asking for what we want.”

Molly Lewis of Dog River Pet Supplies in Hood River, OR, adds that, “I stick by the old adage, ‘The first price is the worst price,’ and I go from there. It never hurts to ask for discounts, favors, deals samples and comps! Brands want our business, so we might as well ask.”

Indeed, “just asking” — even with no justification — can often work in a surprising array of situations (a survey in Britain found customers could regularly obtain discounts of up to 20% from popular retailers just by asking for a better price on the company’s online chat function.)

With humans, the key is a friendly tone, “I was hoping you could help me out.” And if the other side pushes back, you can always respond in good humor, “Well, I had to ask!”

10. REFRAME THE NEGOTIATION AS A CONVERSATION

“I’ve always found the most successful negotiations are those that are treated like conversations, or exercises in which both sides are solving a problem, with the eventual answer being one word: fair,” Peterson says. “It’s a conversation looking for creative ideas to expand value and lead to sustainable agreements. These conversations benefit from empathy, intuition, cooperation, listening, giving due credit for ideas and not interrupting each other.” Frank Mobus co-author of Creative Conflict: A Practical Guide for Business Negotiators with Bill Sanders, concurs: Collaborating to reach a solution can be energizing, socially gratifying and filled with surprises. If you approach the agreement with the spirit of cooperation and collaboration (rather than conflict), not only will you enjoy it more, but you will get a better result — for both sides, he explains.

11. MAKE THE OPENING OFFER

Conventional wisdom says let the other side make the first offer in the hope they show their hand or even better, in the case of an inexperienced negotiator, make a very generous offer out of fear of upsetting the other party or being seen as greedy or uncooperative. Research, however, shows that whoever speaks first can seize control of the bargaining table and influence the ultimate agreed price, thanks to what’s known as the “anchoring effect.” Anchoring does two things: A high initial quote or offer will positively influence the final price as people have a tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of information they receive when making decisions — a well-studied bias in humans that is commonly exploited by retailers — and secondly, an extreme anchor will make the “real number” seem reasonable. How to deal with a shark who throws out an extreme anchor first? Smile and counter with your own extreme anchor.

12. BE TRANSPARENT

In the words of Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler, negotiation is all about building trust: “Being honest is the best technique I can use,” he said. “Right up front, tell people what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re willing to sacrifice to accomplish it.” Peterson agrees, adding that “leading by example is the best way to encourage transparency, and, at a minimum, it certainly saves time.” Such advice runs counter to the traditional view that power in negotiations can derive from indifference. But the result of that can be a negative engagement marked by defensiveness. “If you’re too scared to admit what you want, you’ve taken yourself hostage,” Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and co-author of the book Never Split the Difference says. “Instead of thinking, ‘Oh, no, if they find out what I want, that gives them the power to say no,’ think, ‘Telling them what I need gives them a reason to give me what I want. If they can’t give me it, then we can’t make a deal.’”

13. DON’T PLAY FOR THE OPPOSING TEAM

Rookie mistake: sharing too much information. “We’ve got 120 days’ inventory of that. My manager’s giving us a bonus if we can move some of it,” is not harmless banter (although, yes, it will ingratiate you with the other side). “The rule to remember is: The less the other side knows about our company’s business, the better off we are. And before telling them anything, make sure you know why you’re telling them what you’re telling them,” Sanders and Mobus advise.

14. KEEP IN MIND THAT ‘NO’ IS HOW NEGOTIATIONS START, NOT END

So you enter big and are immediately slapped down with a big “no.” It’s easy to get defensive and assume the deal is over. But a more productive way to view this as the sign negotiations have just begun. Indeed, Voss encourages negotiators to seek out a “no,” so that they can get more clarity on what parts of the deal the other side isn’t comfortable with, wants to change or simply doesn’t understand. When you get a “no,” he suggests following up with questions that help both parties come to a solution. For example: “What about this doesn’t work for you?” or “What would you need to make this work?”

And if that solution cannot be reached in the moment, halt negotiations with the goal of working toward a deal in the future. Lorin Grow of Natural Pawz stores in Texas says, “Be willing to walk away. It doesn’t mean negotiations are totally over, they just might be over right then.”

15. PROBE, PROBE, PROBE

Pride of place in any negotiator’s toolkit is the probe. Simply put, a probe is a succinct open-ended question designed to elicit helpful information and move the negotiation forward. Probe to understand your counterpart’s interest. Probe to turn their “no” into a “yes.” Probe when they’re using a hardball tactic. Probe, probe, probe. The more you understand what they want, the more you can see how you can deliver value to them. And the more value you can deliver, the more value they may be willing to exchange. At a minimum, the odds of a transaction increase as you understand more. The key is to probe with sincere curiosity and to test assumptions. For instance, if you’re interested in a product line but don’t like the initial terms offered, don’t ask a binary question like: “Is this your final offer?” Instead, try something open-ended like: “What would it take to get …?”
Samm Albright of Whisker & Bone in Saint George, UT, uses this tactic regularly. “When I begin to hit a roadblock or become frustrated. When I feel myself stuck in a negotiation, I immediately get curious, I start to ask questions, I seek to further understand. Every time, it ends in that ‘win’ I was going for!”

16. ASK THE BEST QUESTIONS

The most useful questions start with what, how and sometimes but rarely why, Voss says. “Don’t use: can, is, are, do, does,” he adds. The goal is to avoid questions that can be answered with “yes” or tiny pieces of information.

Here are some useful ones to keep in your quiver:

  • Implementation questions: “And how do you think we could do that?” (Good for shifting perspective and forcing empathy from the other side)
  • Exploratory questions: “Under what circumstance …?” (To close the gap when positions are far apart)
  • Option questions: “How about …?” “What if …?” “Might another way work?”
  • Persuasive questions: Research — and recent political history — shows you can’t persuade anyone to see your point of view with “facts.” Ask them subtlety to question their beliefs (“What do you think would happen if …?”) and you may inspire the other person to come up with their own reasons.
  • Comeback questions: When they say “no,” your only response is “Why?”

17. SUMMARIZE EARLY AND OFTEN

Before people can move forward, they need to feel they were heard. One of the best ways to do that is by summarizing and paraphrasing back to them what they say. “Summarize early and often, their reservations, their concerns, what they are up against: Ask, ‘Do I have that right?’ You’ve got to get to ‘That’s right,’” Voss says. Although a “No, it’s not” is almost as helpful. “You’re going to be much more candid with me if you’re correcting me. It’s ridiculous how much faster things are going to go, and then it becomes both an information-gathering and a rapport-building process simultaneously,” he explained recently on the popular Huberman Lab podcast.

18. WOMEN: KEEP GENDER BIAS IN MIND

In many ways, women are actually better equipped to negotiate than men: They tend to be innate problem solvers, more cooperative, listen better, more empathetic, and even more ethical, according to a 2017 UC Berkeley study. But gender bias, in particular the way assertive women are often considered less likeable (by both men and other women), means outcomes are often less optimal. In her book Ask for It, Carnegie Mellon University’s Linda Babcock urges women to use a cooperative style to avoid the backlash (unless dealing with a bully — see the next tip for those situations.) “Don’t be timid but use the right inflection and wording choices,” she says, recommending inclusive language: Instead of saying “I” and “me,” which can create distance, say “we” and “us” to show you are working together to solve a problem. Also, beware of acting differently to be perceived as more likeable. Changing the tone or pitch of your voice, or laughing may be common physical responses to interactions that may involve conflict, but these behaviors can reinforce gender biases and weaken your negotiating power, she says.

19. DEALING WITH BULLIES

Many aggressive types have simply watched too many movies. They are quick with deadlines and threats, but they don’t have a strong grasp on the underlying fundamentals of the negotiation. Overwhelming you is their entire strategy. Stay calm to take advantage of the situation. Faced with an old-school uber-competitive negotiator or just an outright bully, choose to be the adult in the room. Compliment them on their tough negotiating style. Then suggest you are likely to give better concessions if you can get a commitment to collaborate. Once people make such a commitment, most feel bound by it. Model collaborative behavior by asking questions to discover your counterpart’s interests. (“OK, I’m listening. I’m not sure we can go along with that, but let me understand your position a little better. Tell me the thinking that went into that.”) Sometimes you may even find out that the other side has a point; perhaps they were just explaining themselves badly. Force them to be empathetic by asking for their view of your situation and offer, and how to improve it in a way that would work for both sides. (Studies show power can distort the stronger party’s ability to get perspective.) If all else fails, respond in kind. For example, when the other side opens with an outrageous offer (high or low), reply with an equally outrageous counteroffer, and a smile. “This works well if they are simply testing your resolve or if they are bluffing. … But be warned, people have a tendency to reciprocate negative behaviors more than positive behaviors,” Mobus says. If they throw your efforts to be collaborative back in your face, then your best option is to walk away. “The worst thing in life is to get in business with people who don’t have the same values you have, that you don’t respect. I mean, it is misery,” Peterson says, adding he always keeps the advice “Don’t wrestle with pigs, you get dirty, and they enjoy it” close at hand.

Adapting her earlier “be likeable” advice to this type of negotiator, Silberstein says, “Don’t be bullied into agreeing to something.” Some people “will try to bully a woman and never expect her to be a tough negotiator. You absolutely have to not care if someone thinks you’re a ‘bitch.’ This term is so commonly used for women who go for what they want/lead strongly/don’t back down. If I’m a ‘bitch,’ cool, but at the end of the day, I still got what I wanted/needed/deserved.”

20. TAKE IT SLOW

Every seller will try to rush you to close the deal. But there is usually little to be gained from racing to the end of a negotiation. Not only does it eliminate the potential to develop a mutually beneficial solution by testing assumptions with your counterpart, there are strategic reasons to take your time. A push to close a deal right from the start will usually prompt the other party to get defensive, and rightly so, corporate negotiator Alan McCarthy says. “Every negotiation that you’re going to be involved in has a time scale and tempo of its own that you’ll recognize. The thing to be aware of is when the other party starts changing the tempo, usually speeding it up. What it means is one or two things: They have either recognized a mistake you’ve made and they want your name on the paper so that they can enforce, or they’ve seen an advantage for themselves that you haven’t yet valued and what they want again is to have your name on the paper.” Mobus sees it similarly: “Your only option is to slow it down, utilize the caucus. What’s your hurry? Summarize, take a break and make sure your counteroffer is on the mark.” And if you are the party looking to close the deal, drag it out a little. Suddenly concede, for example, while offering no justification, and the other party will get suspicious.

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21. LISTEN MORE, TALK LESS

The FBI has a five-step trust-building approach to manage hostage-takers that ideally ends with the perp coming out with their hands up. It starts with “active listening.” This is not just being quiet — it’s showing sincere curiosity, leaning forward, obvious contemplation, summarizing and asking relevant follow-up questions. “Focus first on what they have to say,” Voss says. “Once they are convinced you understand them, only then will they listen.” And there are other benefits from listening: You get goodwill and information. (There’s also the chance you’ll give less away if you’re not talking all the time.) And it will help you avoid what Fisher called the mistake of “Deducing their intentions from your fears.” Listen carefully for the intent behind the words. It’s not unusual the counterparty will seek to obscure what is most important to them, but you can usually infer it. It’s often a practical aspect of the deal — price, time frames, support, extended payment terms. But other times they will reveal it’s something else — an introduction you can facilitate or some form of recognition (your support, say, for an industry honor), a personal fear assuaged … All this can often be gleaned by listening intently. “We think that the essence of negotiation is talking, but if you observe successful negotiators, you’ll see they listen far more than they talk,” Ury says. If you’ve brought your team, use a backup listener whose only job is to listen between the lines, Voss advises.

Rebecca Nicholson of Yarn and Bone Pet Supply in Milford, DE, agrees. “I think one of the things people do is to talk too much. You need to be a good listener and leave some awkward silence. It can leave room for people to change their mind or think more on what’s been said.”

22. HARNESS THE POWER OF SILENCE

Speaking of … silence is powerful, whether you’ve just finished a sales pitch on the store floor, are deliberating a product at a trade show or are engaged in a contract negotiation. Humans are conditioned to fill the gaps in conversations. Silence can throw people off their game and affect their decision-making. State your price, make an observation, ask a challenging question and then switch to a respectful silence (count thousands in your head). If you maintain eye contact but don’t speak, your counterpart might start rambling, reveal an important detail or make concessions they wouldn’t otherwise.

Jennifer Thomas of Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery in Lawrence, KS, uses this tactic when negotiating: “Pausing makes people uncomfortable, and they tend to fill the silence by giving you more than you ask for.”

23. MAP OUT THE VALUES IN THE DEAL

Once you have the other side’s attention so they will listen to your ideas, how do you find mutual-gain concessions? The most important way is not making — or asking for — unilateral concessions, Mobus says. If you make a concession, you should say: “Yes, I can do that for you, but here’s what I need you to do in return for me.” Or, “No, I can’t live with what you’re asking for, but here’s what I can offer you instead.” For example, in dealing with a software vendor, to get the ball rolling you might say: “If you can bring that price down 5%, I could serve as a demo site for you.” And the vendor could come back with: “I can’t come down 5%, but if you would be willing to be a demo site, I’d raise our service levels and give you a guaranteed two-hour response time 24/7 if you run into problems.” So now you could say, “I like the idea of you giving me a quicker response time, but if we’re going be a demo site, I’d also like a three-year warranty.” What’s driving this process is value-mapping — finding changes useful to the other side that don’t cost you as much. Both buyer and seller are thinking about what they could trade, not what to demand. That is the heart of mutual-gain concessions. The process is invariably incremental. Big demands just result in big hurdles to get over.

24. BRUSH UP YOUR EQ

Anyone can learn to negotiate better, although some people do seem to have a natural gift for it. Call it emotional intelligence or just common sense, they understand:

  • People want to be heard. (Only then do their ears open.)
  • People want their autonomy. (Don’t back people into a corner — they will disagree even when it’s not in their interest to disagree. Answering open-ended questions gives people the feeling they are in control of the conversation.)
  • Fight or flight reactions. (When people’s interests feel threatened, they instinctively go on the defensive, bringing down the shutters, while tunnel vision sets in.)
  • Insult someone and they won’t forget it.

25. PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE

It is not enough to know the tactics, strategies and anchor phrases that make a good negotiator. You need to be able to reflexively call on them when needed and feel comfortable verbalizing them, often in pressurized situations. Role-play is a good way to practice, as are the micro-negotiations you’re confronted with every day. “Take a negotiating risk today,” Mobus says, be it at work, at home, in the mall. Build rapport, probe with curiosity, shift perspective, model transparency, trade value, go silent … ask, ‘What is your flexibility on that?’” You may be surprised at how effective it all is.

TYPES OF NEGOTIATORS

These are the types of negotiators, according to Chris Voss in his book, Never Split The Difference.

Analyst: Acquiring facts and info > making a deal

  • Time = Preparation
  • Silence = Opportunity to think
  • Methodical and diligent. Hates surprises.
  • Self-image tied to minimizing mistakes
  • Prefers to work on their own
  • Reserved problem solver
  • Information aggregator
  • Skeptical by nature
  • May appear to agree when just agreeing to think about it
  • Doesn’t like calibrated questions
  • Apologies have little value
  • Hypersensitive to reciprocity
  • Get gift first = it must be a trap
  • Give first = you must reciprocate‍
  • Tools: labels, specifically to compare analysis
  • Uses data to drive my reason, no ad-libbing
  • Uses data comparisons to disagree‍
  • Worst-type match: Assertive

Accommodator: Building relationship > making a deal

  • Time = Relationship
  • Silence = Anger
  • Communicating leads to happy
  • Sociable, peace-seeking, optimistic, distractible, poor time management
  • Watch tone and body language; hesitancy won’t come in words‍
  • Risk: may overpromise, agree to give you something they can’t actually deliver‍
  • Tools: “What…” and “How…” calibrated questions focused on implementation‍
  • Worst-type match: Accommodator

Assertive: Being heard > making a deal

  • Time = Money
  • Silence = Opportunity to speak more
  • Getting the solution perfect is less important than getting it done
  • Loves winning above all else
  • Most likely to get tunnel-vision. Focus on goal means missed opportunities to explore
  • Emotions = bad
  • Negotiation = intellectual sparring
  • Tools: calibrated questions, labels, and summaries. Get a “That’s right‍.”
  • Be careful with reciprocity (give an inch and they will take a mile)‍
  • Worst-type match: Analyst

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