9 Biggest Negotiation Mysteries Solved

Before delivering the opening keynote for IBTM America on the topic of how (and why) to create moments of human connection during a negotiation with either buyers or vendors/suppliers, I invited the attendees to ask their biggest question about negotiation.

Here are the nine most popular questions along with my answers:

  • How do I get most of what I want?

That's the big question isn't it? Zig Ziglar has some advice that lines up with the human connection message, "You can get anything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want."

There's that magic word, "help" again. Viewing the negotiation as a collaboration instead of a competition, and taking the perspective of the other party works wonders for increasing your piece of the pie...AND theirs.

  • What does the client want?

This doesn't have to be a big mystery, although often it feels like it is. One of the first rules of negotiation is to be prepared. Many times you can find their priorities right on their web site. If not, it's perfectly appropriate to ask, "If I had a magic wand, what would your ideal outcome look like?" Then be sure to follow up with, "What else?"

To find out what they REALLY want (on an emotional level), then you've got to dig deeper.


You: "If I had a magic wand, what would your ideal outcome look like?" Response: "I'd need a space for 500, with free WiFi included." You (digging deeper): "If you had that, what would that do for you personally?" Response: "I'd get a huge sigh of relief, because last year we didn't have it and everyone was breathing down my neck."'

Now that you know what the client REALLY wants, suddenly it's not about the WiFi. Things that were previously non-negotiable become a little more flexible if you can find a way to scratch the real itch that underlies their request.

  • How to do it right using email instead of talking?

The last thing you want is to get blindsided by a fast-talker. Email is great because it slows down the process and gives you time to think. Also, email gives you a written record. If they try to pin you down on the phone, you can say, "I'm happy to get you that information. What's your email address so I can forward you a proposal?"

The challenge with email is you lose the human element and simply become words on a screen. Here are three ideas to create a human connection, even through email:

  1. Include your photo in your email signature file. One study showed that when medical professionals saw a photo of the patient, they were far more accurate while reading their CT scans. It's amazing the power that a friendly face has to create a connection.
  2. Match their typing style. If they use short quick sentences and frequent paragraph breaks, you do the same. If they decide to go with one huge block of words, then mimic that. We like people who are like ourselves.
  3. We also like people who are HUMAN. So stop with all the professional-speak and write like you're talking to them face to face. And don't worry about the occasional typo. People who make small mistakes are seen as more likable and trustworthy than someone who is "fake-it-till-you-make-it" perfect.

Other than that, many of the same techniques will apply.

  • I like to ask the question, "Can you work with me?" to get negotiations going. Thoughts?

Great! A small change I'd make is, "Can you help me?" Helping is so much more fun than working. :)

  • How do we work together for a win-win?

Create a real human connection! Telegraph that you're willing to collaborate, that you understand their side, and that you need their help and it's amazing how quickly the whole vibe can change. They'll be actively helping you find win-win outcomes instead of trying to rake you over the coals.

Be a giver first. If they choose not to "touch gloves and fight fair," then switch to "matcher" mode and counter punch. Don't let yourself get taken advantage of.

  • How can we speed up the negotiation process?

Simply asking for their "highest and best" offer (Or "lowest and best") is perfectly appropriate if you offer a reason. In fact, some studies show that you don't even need a reason as long as you say the word, "because" (yet another Magic Word).

Example: "Is that your lowest and best? Because I'm fielding a lot of proposals right now and I won't have time to follow up with you on this."

  • How does one acquire great negotiating skills?

Study people! Read up on social psychology. Practice with small transactions (for example, try to get a free drink at Subway). Attend a training (Fred Pryor offers 1-day seminars on this topic all over the US and it's cheap to attend).

Finally, join me for my two-minute Tuesday "Good At People" emails.

  • When to negotiate?

It's always worth a shot. The simplest technique that I almost always use is to say, "Ouch" when they propose something. If I'm in person, I'll visibly flinch. Even if they don't come down on price, they walk away from the deal thinking they got every last cent. Which is good for future interactions as well as everyone having a sense of win-win.

  • What's fair?

Trust your gut on this one. The fact that you're even asking the question is a good sign. It shows you care about fairness. Don't lose that.

Have a peek at Adam Grant's great book, Give and Take to see why nice guys don't have to finish last.

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