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Negotiator, Know Thyself

In an excerpt from his new book, "Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People," Shell provides a seven-point checklist to help you hone your negotiating skills.
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Business 101

Hone your negotiating skills--with a checklist matched to your personality type

At the Wharton School, we teach people that effective negotiation is 10% technique and 90% attitude. What follows are two performance checklists from my recent book to help you prepare for your next negotiation. One list is for people who are basically cooperative. The other is for those who are more competitive.

Seven Tools for Highly Cooperative People
If you are basically a cooperative, reasonable person, you need to become more assertive, confident, and prudent in negotiations to become more effective. It is sometimes the hardest thing in the world to gear up for a potentially confrontational negotiating situation.

Here are seven specific tools to improve your bargaining performance.

1. Avoid concentrating too much on your bottom line. Spend extra time preparing your goals and developing high expectations. As a cooperative person, you often worry about other people's needs first. You focus on your bottom line and try to do just a little better than that. And guess what? Your bottom line is exactly what you get. People who expect more get more. Refocus your thinking on your goals and expectations. Consider carefully what you want and why you want it.

2. Develop a specific alternative as a fallback if the negotiation fails. Too often, cooperative people leave themselves without choices at the bargaining table. They have no alternatives planned if negotiations fail. But there always is an alternative. Find out what it is, and bring it with you to the bargaining table. You will feel more confident. Take note: if you can't walk away, you can't say no.

3. Get an agent and delegate the negotiation task. If you are up against competitive negotiators, you will be at a disadvantage. Find a more competitively oriented person to act as your agent or at least join your team. That is not an admission of failure or lack of skill. It is prudent and wise.

4. Bargain on behalf of someone or something else, not yourself. Even competitive people feel weaker when they are negotiating on their own behalf. Cooperative people think they are being selfish to insist on things coming out their way.

Fine. Think about other people and causes--your family, your staff, even your future "retired self"--that are depending on you to act as their agent and "bring home the bacon" in this negotiation. Then bargain on their behalf.

5. Create an audience. People negotiate more assertively when other people are watching them. That is why labor negotiators are so tough--they know the union rank and file are watching their every move. Tell someone you know about the negotiation. Explain your goals and how you intend to proceed. Promise to report the results.

6. Say, "You'll have to do better than that because..." Cooperative people are programmed to say "yes" to almost any plausible proposal someone else makes. To improve, you need to practice pushing back a little when others make a bargaining move.

A simple phrase that works is "You'll have to do better than that because..." (fill in a reason). The better the reason, the better you will feel about it, but any truthful reason will do. Many people will respond favorably if you make a request in a reasonable tone of voice and accompany it with a "because" statement.

7. Insist on commitments, not just agreements. Cooperative people trust others more than is good for them, and they think an agreement is all that is needed to ensure that performance will take place as promised. Don't be so trusting. Agreements are fine if you have a solid basis for believing that the other party's word is its bond. But be sure you have that foundation before risking all the work you have invested in a negotiation. If you don't know the people on the other side well or you suspect that they may be untrustworthy, set up the agreement so they have something to lose if they fail to perform.

Seven Tools for Highly Competitive People
If you are basically a competitive, but still reasonable, person, you need more than anything to become more aware of other people and their legitimate needs. How can you do that? It is sometimes the hardest thing in the world to overcome your inherent suspicion of others' motives. And it is difficult to resist temptation when you are dealing with a cooperative person who is naïvely handing things to you.

Here are seven specific tools you can use to improve your bargaining performance.

Last updated: May 1, 1999

G. RICHARD SHELL | Columnist

G. Richard Shell is the Thomas Gerrity Professor of Legal Studies, Business Ethics, and Management at the Wharton School. He is the author of three books, including the most recent Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success, which was released in paperback this May.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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