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A Few Guidelines for Negotiating Successfully

Jack Kaine is an expert negotiator.  He has written about negotiation, given speeches about it, and he has taught it at Stanford.  He reminds us that the people sitting at a union bargaining table are not the only people who negotiate.  We all negotiate.  Every day.  We negotiate with employees over pay, benefits, working conditions, and a host of other issues.  We negotiate with vendors and with customers.  We negotiate with our spouse and kids about where we’ll go on vacation, who does what around the house, and who gets the car on Saturday night.  We negotiate with our friends about where we’ll meet for dinner.  So negotiating is a life skill, but a skill that some of us are better at than others.  If you suspect that your own negotiating skills are not what they could be, and if you believe some expert tips from Jack Kaine might help you up your game, please continue reading below.

A Few Guidelines for Negotiating Successfully

First, according to Kaine, most people think negotiating and bargaining are just two different names for the same activity.  Wrong.  Bargaining is a zero-sum game, and as such, it’s competitive.  One of us it going to win, the other is going to lose.  Negotiating, on the other hand, is not competitive, it’s cooperative . . . particularly when there is a symbiotic relationship whereby the parties depend upon one another.  In those circumstances, each party has more to gain by negotiating than not negotiating.

That said, here are some pearls of negotiating wisdom from Jack Kaine.

  • Be the first to speak. That gives you an opportunity to set the tone for the negotiation that’s about to begin.  Try to use words and body language that will promote openness, cooperation, and trust.  If the negotiation opens in an atmosphere that is adversarial, it will be very difficult to get it back onto a positive track.
  • If you want to be the best negotiator in the room, be the best listener. In the end, you need to understand what the other side is trying to do and how they’re trying to do it better than they understand it themselves. You’ll only get that by being a great listener. Not only will you learn something about what the other side wants, but since you’re listening and not speaking, you won’t be able to say anything that might get you in trouble.
  • Don’t argue. Arguing will only cause each side to get defensive and to solidify its position.  Instead, ask questions, lots and lots of clarifying questions aimed at understanding where the other side is coming from.
  • Don’t negotiate with yourself. Kaine asks you to imagine proofreading your proposal before entering a negotiation.  You get to the last page, look at the price that’s there, and say to yourself, “This is nuts!  They’ll never accept that.”  So you redo the proposal to reduce the price.  You just negotiated with yourself.  You made a concession that the other side will never appreciate because they didn’t know about it, they never asked for it, and they didn’t have to lift a finger to get it.
  • Never make a concession without getting something in return. If you make a concession without getting anything in return, you will damage whatever trust may have existed between the parties.  You will send a message that you were trying to cheat by asking for something that you didn’t really need.  For example, if the other side asks for a lower price, don’t just cave in and give it to them.  Instead, say something like, “Yes, we can meet the price you’re asking for, but then we won’t be able to provide free delivery as specified in our proposal.”
  • We want the outcome of a negotiation to last, to have staying power, but that will only happen if both sides get something they want. Work to understand the other guy’s motivation.  If you don’t understand what he wants and why he wants it, how can you put together a proposal that he will accept?  There has to be mutual gain.  Both parties don’t necessarily have to gain equally, but they each do have to gain something they want.

In summary, do not let a negotiation be come a competition.  It should be an open and honest exploration of what each side is trying to accomplish, and a commitment by both parties to get everybody as much of what they want as possible.  Only in very rare cases do both parties to a negotiation get everything they want.  But still, they will consider the negotiation a success if they feel they got more through negotiation than they would have gotten otherwise.

If you want to hear Jack Kaine himself discussing this stuff, just go to YouTube and search for him.  You’ll find quite a few of his clips posted there.

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