Each and every day, we negotiate when we want something - be it help, advice, money, or better behavior - from someone else - our partner, our nanny, our employees, and our children. The easiest way to become comfortable in these less risky negotiations, says negotiation guru, Linda Swindling, is to watch powerful negotiators in action.
She explains, "Influencers and decision makers ask questions and make decisions no matter how big or small the encounter. The best negotiators are professional and comfortable with everyone they meet from the front line to CEOs."
As with many things, preparation also is key. Here are seven dos and don'ts for preparing to tackle negotiations, whether of the low-stakes, "little n," or high-stakes, "big N," variety:
1. Ask "Is this worth it?" You are busy and your time is valuable. Knowing in advance what you want is the first step in articulating it and achieving it. Before beginning any negotiation, big or small, ask yourself: "What do I want - and why?" Or, "What are the good business reasons I'm making this request?" And, "Is this direction worth my time and effort?"
When you prepare, identify what constitutes a "win" for you and have reasons to support your position. Your answers to these questions will help you determine your "must haves," or essentials, know when it is time to celebrate, and signal when you should walk away from a deal. Also, have a good idea of how the other side(s) would answer the "Is this worth it" questions.
2. Ask outrageously. One of the main reasons for not achieving a successful outcome is that people don't ask for what they want. Get into the habit of asking for more than you think you deserve or ask someone to take less than they first propose.
Start by asking outrageously in "safe places." For instance, ask a long-term vendor if you can have free shipping or a discount. If you don't feel comfortable asking at work, go practice at a yard sale or flea market. Ignore what your mom taught you about not being greedy or asking for seconds and go ask outrageously with strangers.
3. Be comfortable with silence. Ask and then give others time to answer. People need time to think and percolate on ideas. Don't fill that silence with nervous chatter. And don't withdraw your offer before you have an answer. Silence can seem like forever. Count to ten if you have to or remind yourself that it isn't respectful to talk while someone else is pondering a response.
4. Get comfortable with the word "no." What is the worst that can happen? If you ask respectfully, you might hear "no" or "not at this time." You'll be surprised at how many times people will say yes or give you additional information. As long as you are professional, your position won't be harmed. In fact, if you are not hearing "no," you are probably not asking for enough.
5. Don't attempt to be a mind reader or know all the answers. Decision makers can spot someone who is pretending or stalling. Instead, prepare to the extent you can and stay curious. Ask others what they want. Here are a few safe questions, "If you could wave a magic wand and get everything you wanted, what outcome would you want to see happen?" or "I have my ideas of what you might want, but I'd really like to hear your desired outcomes. What are you looking for here?"
6. Stop dwelling on past mistakes. Dwelling on past mistakes takes you off course and diminishes your effectiveness. You aren't perfect and you will make mistakes. Most mistakes are fixable. Don't suffer from "paralysis by analysis" which causes you to lose the power of timing that is critical in negotiating. You do not have the luxury of beating yourself up. Review what worked and what didn't and move on.
7. Don't deal with people who can't make decisions. Practice now with the small stuff. Start watching for people who can say "yes." The ones who can only say "no" do not have the power to move things forward. A hint to spotting them: the powerless stall with unreasonable processes and continually ask for more information but can't tell you when a decision will be made.