Regardless of whether you’re aware of it, you’re negotiating all the time. Here are three strategies that will help you get what you need—and what you want.
Know Your Facts
According to Mike Schultz, president of RAIN Group, the person who understands the issues the best will be the strongest negotiator. This starts with knowing all the facts. For example, if you’re shopping for a new social learning platform, you need to know what functions you plan to use—not just what the supplier can offer. Or, if you’re negotiating a bigger annual budget, you should know what other companies in your industry spend on training and development per employee, per year.
“Lack of knowledge introduces doubt on both sides of the negotiation,” says Schultz. So, any data you can bring to the table will put you in a stronger position.
In practical terms, Jeff Weiss notes in the HBR Guide to Negotiating that you should put at least as much time into getting ready as you think the negotiation will take. For example, if you’ve scheduled a two-hour conversation, then spend at least two hours preparing.
“And the more complex the issues at hand, the more you need to prepare—at least double or triple the length of time you’ll spend at the table,” advises Weiss.
See Their Side
Having all the pertinent facts and figures can’t be your only stratagem. Know your leverage points, too. These are factors such as needs versus wants, financial budgets, time constraints, and competitive offerings. You need to understand not only your leverage points but also the other party’s priority issues and any options that may fall in the middle.
Be sure to know the answers to a few key questions:
- What’s your goal? What’s the other party’s goal?
- What are your needs? What are the other party’s needs?
- What are some potential concessions on either side?
- What pressures do you have to make a deal? What pressures does the other party have?
- What is your bottom line? What is the other party’s bottom line?
Armed with your answers, you will be able to come up with an array of potential outcomes to the negotiation. Weiss advises executives to write down multiple good, bad, and crazy ideas.
“Allow yourself to come up with solutions that seem unrealistic—often from those impossible options, you’ll see a path toward a more viable one,” he writes. “Each solution you come up with may not address every need you and your counterpart have, but each should address at least a subset for both parties.”
Practice Your Play
Like anything else, the more you negotiate, the better you’re going to be at it. If you don’t have a lot of experience in formal negotiations, you can use practice and role play to build your expertise and confidence—something L&D pros know how to do very well. Practicing also will prepare you to navigate any obstacles your counterpart lays before you.
Prepare hypothetical scenarios and contingency plans. What if your boss scoffs at your first request for a budget increase or additional staff? What if a supplier won’t budge on a price or delivery date? Having your responses ready in advance will help you mitigate any element of surprise and avoid strategic missteps.
Michael Wheeler is a professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School, where he teaches negotiation. In The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World, he warns that not all negotiations can be scripted. “Your goals may change during the course of negotiation, a little or a lot. Unexpected opportunities and obstacles may pop up. Your across-the-table counterpart may be more or less cooperative than you expected,” he writes. Granted, you can’t practice for everything, but you can prepare how you will react to common objections and challenges.
Want to learn more? Check out LearnNow: Negotiations to discover proven tools to approach negotiations strategically and effectively.