YOUR NEGOTIATION SKILLS WON´T IMPROVE BY READING A BOOK ALONE. Not to say reading negotiation books is useless, but it’s important to note that negotiation is a behavioural skill set. And a learnable one. And as such, it requires practice. And lots of it. It´s like ice-skating. You might read books about it, watch famous skaters do it, but unless you feel the ice skates on your feet, you don´t really know what it´s all about. Neither can you appreciate the skill of the masters to the fullest. If you´re freaked-out already, hold on. Here are nine effective tips to make negotiation less stressful….
1. Pick safe situations. “Oh no, sir. We´re not that kind of shop.” I once entered a clothes shop in Oxford, picked a few pieces and asked about a discount for buying several items. The poker face of the shop assistant almost made me run away from the shop. It did feel awkward, but luckily I´d been chatting with her previously and I’d already told her that I was taking a negotiation course in the town. Well, new skills are a little uncomfortable and you won´t succeed every time. That´s why you might pick situations where your negotiation partners don´t know you or won´t meet you every day. Next time you’re on a business trip or vacation, hotels, restaurants, car rentals are perfect places for testing out your skills. Don´t wait to practice on the most important deal (the kind we typically do once or twice in a lifetime). Buying your dream house is not the best place to start jazzing-up your skills.
2. Prepare. The fact that you are in a different town or country doesn’t mean you should wing it. I recommend sitting down for 20 minutes or so – with a coffee – and thinking about the situation from your counterpart’s point of view, as well as from yours. Prepare several scenarios of what could happen and how you will react. By doing that, your goal and your strategy will crystalize and you will feel more confident.
Just yesterday I was preparing to negotiate my money back from a local service provider. Looking back, I’m glad I was too hungry to stop for lunch before that negotiation, because it helped me realise what I wanted. And it helped me calm down a bit, too. It wasn´t about getting the money back, it was about getting the service the job required. And had I gone there directly, I´d most probably started a blame game which would only trigger resistance and self-defence. So when it comes to preparation: write your thoughts down. Really. It makes a world of difference.
3. Start a negotiation journal. Or use your existing journal for that matter. Again, it builds on written preparation. Here´s what works for me: after a negotiation – and I consider every meeting a negotiation – I write down ‘What Went Well (WWW) and the things that could be Done Differently (DD) next time. So, my journal has two columns WWW and DD. I make sure there are not too many things, just the priorities. The point is not to beat myself down, the point is to help yourself get better.
4. Practice one thing only. Linked to the previous one, make sure you aren´t trying to eat the whole elephant in one bite. By focusing on one thing only, you will notice the small nuances you wouldn’t see normally. In the IT and marketing worlds, they talk about A/B testing – the idea is similar. Change only one thing and observe the impact. Next time, do it the old way and observe the impact again. Just don´t try to change five things at once and hope it will bring better results. It simply won´t work.
5. Try it three times. At least. When you watch the kids learning to ice-skate, you notice they often fall. My boy turned it into a game – he started falling on purpose and had a lot of fun. That´s the attitude that helps you get over the discomfort: since the behaviour is new, you´re bound to fall. Don´t worry about that too much; when learning something, quantity always comes before quality. If you practice often enough, quality will look after itself.
6. Forget the results. This one might seem counterintuitive – we negotiate to get a better result, don´t we? Well, the devil is in the detail. And to master the details, we must – at least temporarily – take our eyes of the final goal. Focus on the process instead. Some people call it mindfulness, others call it Zen, I don´t care. The good outcomes are consequences of good behaviours. Unless we start noticing good behaviours, there won´t be good outcomes. For many people, it eases the tension too.
7. Aim for incremental improvements. Once you want to look at the results, I want you to aim for low things. The young boy and a barber joke says it all: A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you”. The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber, “That kid never learns!”. Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his ice cream and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!” When I say incremental, I mean aim to get an improvement once in every six situations. You don´t need to succeed in each and every one. Having that pressure off your chest helps you remain decent to your counterpart. And believe me, this often makes the difference.
8. Share your experiences. Set up an informal negotiation study group. Don´t call it that though. In fact, don´t call it anything. Just talk to friends about their negotiating experiences. Once you open up, they´ll want to share their successes, as well as their failures. Discuss negotiation strategies at lunch with your colleagues. Check social networks. Look for negotiation scenes in movies. Share YouTube funny negotiation videos. Our brain loves stories. And you don´t have to make all the mistakes yourself.
9. Read a book. I kept this one until last, but it doesn´t necessarily mean it should come last. And if you practice enough, this comes as a natural next step – you will want to read something about it. I had a book on Chi Running collecting dust on my book shelf for almost a year. When did I open it and really start to read? The day after my first marathon. Why? Because that was the day I was eager to learn about running more effectively! … The thing is whether we put what we read into practice.
In conclusion, life offers you many free lessons in negotiation skills. It´s only up to you, if you repeat the same mistakes over and over.
About Pavel Novák Pavel Novak’s truly unique negotiation coaching helps you consistently achieve profitable agreements while also strengthening your professional relationships. Working at the cutting-edge of behavioural psychology, Pavel has studied closely with the leading authorities, including world-renowned American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, with Bruce Patton, Distinguished Fellow at the Harvard Negotiating Project, and with Tim Cullen, MBE, Director of the Oxford University Programme on Negotiation. Pavel helps you implement current negotiation trends so that you can confidently use your skills in any context.