Negotiating tricks Featured

12:50pm EDT September 29, 2005
Business negotiations can be a lot like carnival rides. They usually begin like the merry-go-round, pretty straightforward, up and down, around and around, but really going nowhere. All of a sudden, conflicts and disputes arise, and negotiations quickly turn into a roller coaster with wild, breathtaking climbs and plunges, twists and turns. Now, the process becomes a bumper car, moving slowly, going in circles and getting unexpectedly slammed from all sides. Both parties may end the negotiation feeling sick to their stomachs — just like at the end of a day at an amusement park. The following best practice suggestions and tricks of the trade should help lead to more-successful, less-stressful business negotiations.

Become a better negotiator

  • Always call first; be prepared and set the agenda.

  • If you set the price first, you manage expectations and force the other side to play off your number. After that, never bid against yourself.

  • Always offer to have your counsel draft documents. This is a tremendous bargaining advantage. Again, the opposing side has to try and change your starting point.

  • Set high idealistic expectations; end up with a better deal.

  • Settle on realistic positions.

  • Be prepared for a pessimistic outcome; know your bottom line and deal breakers.

  • Constantly ask, “What do you mean by that?” “Why?” and “Why not?”

  • You have two ears and one mouth; listen more, talk less.

  • Listen for content and delivery.

  • Body language sometimes tells you everything.

  • Use silence. The power of a pause is amazing — people just start talking, usually to their detriment.

  • Power, money, time and necessity can create leverage.

  • Recognize that leverage is dynamic. Neither side will hold it the whole time.

  • When stuck, try adding two or more seemingly inconsistent needs together to get a solution that accommodates each of them.

  • Develop a positive rapport to gain respect, strength and trust.

  • Make a point, not an enemy.

  • Emotions have no part in a business negotiation. Do not show them. Do not react to them.

  • Never lie.

  • Do not expect others to act as you do.

  • If you say it long enough and often enough, people will believe it.

Tricks of the trade
You may be able to use some of these tricks to your advantage.

  • Splitting the difference. This is not always fair to both sides (you may have had a bad starting point or be facing a non-monetarily split-able issue). Do not offer to split it until the other side is willing to, otherwise they may demand another split.

  • Good guy, bad guy. There are no friends on the other side.

  • Red herring and sleeves of your vest. The other side may make a big deal out of a little issue, then concede as if it was material; or worse, grudgingly giving in on something that has no value.

  • Step negotiation and death by a thousand cuts. Every time you think the deal is done, another major issue is raised, or you continue to concede on a myriad of small issues until the sum is major.

  • Wiggle. When negotiations are completed, the other side wants one last new thing thrown in for free.

Using these tips should help you stay more balanced and keep your feet on the ground during the unpredictable adventure of business negotiations. Finally, buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Robert S. Burns is of counsel with Brouse McDowell. Reach him at (330) 535-5711 or