The art of negotiation - Brush up your skills with our top tips

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8 March 2016
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

Do you pay the asking price without thinking or is it second nature to go after a bargain?


Like it or not negotiation is part of everyday life.

We British have a reputation for being bad at negotiating. When visiting a bazaar or flea market, we’re more likely to pay the full price than haggle to get a good deal. What about you? Do you pay the asking price without thinking or is it second nature to go after a bargain? Like it or not negotiation is part of everyday life. Almost all situations in which we find ourselves on a daily basis require us to communicate and come to an agreement. It might be as simple as concurring over which restaurant to go to with your spouse or as complex as pulling off a multi-million pound deal. As Fisher & Ury say, in their classic book Getting to Yes, "Negotiation is a basic means of getting what you want from others. It is a back-and forth communication designed to reach an agreement when you and the other side have some common interests that are shared and others that are opposed”.

1. Know what you want 

Be clear about your own objectives. Knowing precisely what you want is the first step to getting it. Be clear about not just what you want but what you need. If you need 6,000 marketing brochures printed you will want to get them at the best price. Maybe you’d like some more business cards too. Prioritise your list of wants and needs. What are you prepared to give away to get what you really need? What’s your bottom line?

2. Do your homework 

Research is critical. Find out what the other party wants and needs. Assess the strength of their position and their ability to negotiate. What are their weaknesses? Maybe they’re tied to a deadline that they must meet or have to stay within a certain budget. Be aware of any cultural differences that will affect they way they operate.

3. Leverage the balance of needs and fears

The best way to achieve what you want is to acquire something that someone else wants. Time, self esteem, goods, service – these are just some of the things people may want. Having something another person wants, or even better needs, will tip the scales in your favour. As G Richard Shell says in his book Bargaining for Advantage “With leverage even an average negotiator will do well”.

4. Flattery will get you everywhere  

Robert Cialdini, author of Influence – the psychology of persuasion says ‘likeability’ is a key ingredient for success. People buy ideas or products from people they like. Liking flows from the positive connections we make with others. Find something you have in common or pay them a genuine compliment and the barriers come down. It costs nothing to say “I’d really like to do business with you”.

5. Salami it  

Slice it thin and you can give more. In simple terms this means unbundling the package – breaking it down into smaller chunks. Instead of offering them the whole salami offer them six slices of it. “I‘ll give you another three slices if you do XYZ” You need room to manoeuvre if you want to achieve a good win-win deal.

6. Use the “If” word 

The ‘if’ word is really useful when you’re negotiating. “If I buy two what price will you give me?” If you will X then I will Y” or “If I were to do A what would you be willing to do in return?” Make using the ‘if’ word a habit. Once it becomes second nature to use it you will soon reap the benefits.

7. Don’t ever give anything for nothing 

If you don’t value what you have to offer you can guarantee the other person won’t either. Even if you have something that is of no perceived value to you it may be very useful to them. It might be as simple as a research report, or carpets and curtains if you’re selling your house. Every little extra can be used to get you a better overall deal.

8. Keep quiet and wait for them to speak 

Silence is your ally. At the point at which you put an idea or offer forward wait for them to speak. If you’re tempted to fill the space you’ll end up giving away ground. Instead give them time to think and practise your best poker expression. The more you keep ‘schtum’ the more likely that they will feel they have to say something.

9. Remember – nothing is agreed until everything is agreed 

Until the transaction is finalised you can keep on changing the package within any offer you make. Just because you threw in some extras at an earlier stage in the hope of clinching a quick deal don’t hesitate in clawing them back or re-bundling the overall package if it feels appropriate to do so.

Once everything is finally agreed make sure you put it in writing. When it comes to the close make sure everyone has the same understanding. Put it all down in writing. Define anything that may come across as ambiguous. Make sure you don’t ignore important issues just to get the deal done. The timing of your offer is critical. You need to read the other person’s body language and wait until they appear receptive. Emphasise the common ground you have established.

If you want more of these great tips to improve your negotiating skills and a chance to have lots of practice, instantly sign up for our negotiation skills course!