5 Do's and Don'ts of Successful Negotiation

by Ellen Lee on November 5, 2012
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From hammering out a contract to securing a lease for office space, negotiation is essential to the success of nearly every small-business owner.

Need some advice? The longtime best-seller Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, first published in 1981, offers a step-by-step strategy that continues to be useful today. Authors William Ury, Roger Fisher, and Bruce Patton based the book on their work with the Harvard Negotiation Project, which aims to improve the practice of negotiation by working on real-world conflict intervention, education, and training, as well as writing and disseminating new ideas.

Getting to Yes, available in 37 languages, has been used by leaders in business and government worldwide. Here are a few basic do’s and don’ts from the book to get you started with successful negotiation:

1. Don’t get personal. Don’t make the negotiation about you and the other person. Don’t get dragged into personal attacks. Stay focused on the issues of the negotiation. That’s often easier said than done, of course, particularly in a contentious negotiation. But Fisher, Ury, and Patton say that just being aware of the other side’s dirty tactics — such as stooping to personal attacks — gives you the upper hand. Brush it off and turn the conversation back to the matter at hand.

2. Do try to see the other side’s perspective. It helps to “walk in the other person’s shoes.” Brainstorm a solution that could make the other side happy — and then see if you can massage it so that it suits your interests, too.

3. Don’t focus on the other side’s position. Instead, figure out their interests. There’s a difference. The landlord’s position may be a particular dollar figure and lease term, but her underlying interests and needs (such as a desire for a stable tenant, the high cost of grounds keeping, and so forth) have led her to set those targets. By focusing on her interests, you can seek creative and perhaps unconventional ways to make both sides happy. A tenant, for instance, could offer to pay a lower monthly rent in exchange for mowing the lawn and taking care of the yard. Both sides “win”: The tenant saves money on rent, and the landlord has one less task to manage.

4. Do think outside the box. It’s easy to get stuck on a number, to think there are only one or two possible solutions, or that it’s all or nothing. Look for ways that might benefit both sides. This may involve an option that neither side has proposed.

5. Do look for impartial ways to settle any dispute. It helps to do your homework before negotiating. If you’re haggling over the price of an item, for instance, look at how much it cost historically, compare it to similar products, or rely on independent market research. If it’s a discussion of pay, look at the industry norm. Your argument will be that much stronger when you point to objective criteria.

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