The Basics of Negotiating

To develop your skills at negotiating, it is important to first understand some basic principles about what negotiating is and is not. This first article will explain just that; It also will cover several other important topics, such as why negotiating well is essential to any business person, how to recognize when something is negotiable, and when it is better to leave the subject alone. The article also will address the reasons why learning how to listen may be the most fundamental skill you can acquire before you ever attempt to negotiate with anyone for anything.

The Importance of Listening
The next time someone speaks to you, focus only on what they are saying. Pay attention not only to the words they speak but also to their facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. See if you can recall what someone said to you two hours earlier, two days ago,and two weeks ago.

This is not about "memorizing" but about really hearing what the other person is saying to you, and words are only part of the story. With time you will become better equipped to "read between the lines" of what others are saying. Watch the speaker closely. Is he or she tense, edgy, and restless? Or relaxed, comfortable, and confident? Can the person be persuaded to change her or his mind, or has the person dug into a position? Would pressing the issue create a bigger problem, or is it the perfect time to push your point? These nuances can be discerned only when you have acquired the skill of listening well, so if you are not a good listener, you need to start by working on this first. How? Well, as the saying goes, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!

Start at home with those closest to you. If you live alone, practice with friends and acquaintances. You will start to notice that people respond well to being heard. Study the box below and start using the tips there in your next conversation. Keep using them until they become second nature.

The Dos and Don'ts of Listening Well:

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  1. Do make eye contact. Looking at the person who is speaking will let the speaker know he or she has your attention.
  2. Do give appropriate feedback at key points. An occasional nod or the use of the words, "Yes," "Right," "I understand," and "OK," lets the speaker know that you are absorbing the words and are following along, which provides an incentive to continue speaking.
  3. Don't give advice. Unless you are pointedly asked, do not dole out advice. Because people tell you about a specific event does not mean they are seeking your opinion on what they should do; they may just be venting or sharing something that is troubling them.
  4. Don't interrupt. When others are speaking, we often have a strong desire to interrupt them with our own opinion or input before they have had a chance to finish speaking. Wait until the other party is finished before giving your feedback.
  5. Do ask for clarification. If you do not understand what others are saying, do not be afraid to ask them to explain what they mean. Wait for them to pause and then say something like, "I'm not clear on that last point," or "Could you explain that a little more?"
We All Negotiate
We commonly negotiate in our personal lives without realizing we are doing so. If you are in a relationship, you negotiate with your partner daily. If you have children, you negotiate hourly, sometimes every 15 minutes. We negotiate with friends, extended family, and strangers on a regular basis. When it comes to personal negotiations, we may call the process different names. Deciding, discussing, arguing, and suggesting are all terms we use for personal negotiating, but make no mistake, when you engage in this process, you are actively employing the skill of negotiation. These are perfect situations in which to practice your business negotiation skills.

Next time you and your partner or friends discuss dinner plans, pay close attention to how you handle your "opponent." Do you try to come to a conclusion that is satisfying to all, or a win-win settlement? Do you get angry or frustrated and storm from the room? Do you give up, give in, and just go along with what others want? Do you stubbornly refuse to bend at all? You can learn a lot about your negotiating style by observing these seemingly unimportant daily interactions. Use these situations to find your strengths and weaknesses; from these you can adjust, build, and expand on what you learn and apply this information to your business dealings.

Recognizing a Negotiable Situation
It is necessary to determine if the situation at hand is indeed negotiable before even opening discussions. There is a school of thought that insists that "everything is negotiable," which falsely leads people to believe that they can persuade anyone, anywhere, to change her or his mind about anything. This is simply not true. Some things are strictly nonnegotiable, and it is a wiser choice to recognize that fact and move on to another situation rather than to waste valuable time and effort in a no-win dead end.
If the other party or parties have no desire or interest in pursuing talks, it may be best to leave the discussions for another time or concede negotiations completely. There is no secret or special trick that will help you determine whether something is nonnegotiable. The other party will be quite adamant if there is no interest in entering discussions, making it clear that negotiations are not possible at that current time or ever. Persisting to seek negotiations after being clearly told that it is not desired may very well cause you to lose any future chance of opening discussions on the topic. However, there are times when the other party or parties are on the fence about whether to negotiate. Learning how to listen, read body language, and research well are all skills that will prove helpful in deciding if pursuit is possible.
Negotiation is essentially the art of bargaining well. Before you can begin to learn how to negotiate, you must first learn how to listen well to others. Practice the art of listening before moving into more advanced methods of bargaining and making deals. Once you have acquired the skill of listening well, start practicing negotiating in smaller areas of your life. Use work and personal situations to hone your ability to listen, persuade, and reach mutually beneficial decisions. Finally, be sure to determine whether a situation is indeed negotiable. If your partner got sick the last time you convinced him or her to eat spicy food, the odds are you are not going to negotiate Mexican, Indian, or Moroccan cuisine for dinner. It's nonnegotiable.
The Importance of Knowledge and Information for Negotiating Well

Having some background information before entering into negotiations is vital and can make a big difference in how you decide to proceed and how you will respond to the other party's requests or comments. Being prepared before discussing any business endeavor will give you a marked advantage and a clearer understanding of where the other side is coming from; it also will give you confidence.

Research is key to helping you gain information about the situation you will be negotiating. At the very least, you should learn more about your opponents and their particular stance on an issue or issues. Knowledge and information, as Dr. Albert Einstein pointed out many years ago, are not the same thing. Knowledge is something learned and incorporated into one's life, while information is something in the environment that can be obtained by anyone willing and able to observe or find it.

You do not need to know the entire history of a company or individual to have a firm grasp on the party's stance as it relates to the situation that concerns your mutual interests. Simply learning more about what motivates the other party and what its goals are will help you to understand what will be sought in negotiations. Do not spend weeks or days learning everything you can about the party you will be negotiating with; chances are you will not use most of what you have learned, anyway. It is better to glean the facts that are pertinent specifically to your dealings with the other side so that you can better meet the needs of everyone involved in the negotiation. Remember, the goal of negotiating is to come to a mutually beneficial outcome. Knowing what the other party needs but might not have the time or inclination to express during a meeting will give you an edge when discussions begin.

Research Skills You Need to Acquire

Internet research is a great tool that can help you get started with what you need to know and lead you to the resources that will provide you with more information. It is hardly a complete source of information, but it is the perfect place to begin. If you have not yet discovered the joys of "Googling," then now is the time to start. offers a vast source of information on nearly any topic you can imagine. You will cut down on research time considerably if you use this source to map out a strategy. Use it to track down sources of information, whether it be names of employees, partners, and associates or the titles of books on the subject at hand or articles that have been written about the company or topic you are dealing with. This information will provide you with the groundwork you will need to pursue your research further via other sources.

Library research is your next step in gathering information on the subject you are negotiating or the company or person you will be negotiating with. A simple example of using the library for research is in the case of new job acquisition. Say you are interviewing for an executive level position, taking the place of a longtime employee who has gone to a higher position at another company. You want to negotiate the best salary and compensation that you can in this situation. While heading to the library might not seem like a necessity, it absolutely is. While the Internet will help you get information about the company, and specifically about the position you would be filling, more in-depth information can be found in books, periodicals, and newspaper articles. Another situation in which library research will benefit you is when negotiating with different cultures and countries. It would behoove you to learn as much as you can about the customs and practices of the particular country of those you will be in negotiations with . If you apply this information to your business negotiation situations, you will have a clear advantage when walking into any meeting or discussion.
Gentle Probing Another means of gathering information about the other party is by gently inquiring about what you want to know from leaders, employees. and associates. This method of research is often the most enlightening, as it comes directly from the source. This should never be done in a brisk or demanding manner; in fact, a great way to get more information is to invite the person with whom you want to speak out for a friendly business lunch or dinner. In this way, a sharing of information can take place in a relaxed and comfortable environment. If the other party becomes guarded or seems uncomfortable in any way, that is a signal for you to change the subject to something more generic. The point of gentle probing is to simply learn more about what the other party needs and wants so that negotiations will go smoothly later on. This process is not meant to be a pushy or intrusive fact-finding mission. Keep your attitude friendly and light and the other party will feel comfortable sharing valuable information with you.
Being prepared before entering negotiations can and will give you confidence, a decided edge, and a measure of comfort that cannot be had by simply reading whatever reports are given to you by the other party. Take the time to dig a little deeper into the motivations, history, and background of the other party and learn more about that party's needs. Do this in a way that is not pushy or threatening and you will learn more than you thought you could. If you approach your information-gathering mission with an attitude of goodwill, the opposing side will not only be cooperative but will accommodate you in your pursuit.