Negotiation is a fact of life. The key to success is remembering that everything is negotiable -- and to get a deal you must ask for one. Many businesspeople feel uncomfortable negotiating, thus shortchanging themselves because they refuse to engage in the process. They view negotiating as a contest of wills in which power determines outcome, each party seeks to one-up the other, and the little guy doesn't stand a chance. This type of bargaining may produce some short-term results -- but it's a win-lose process. It doesn't have to be that way. Effective negotiation can produce an agreement that meets the needs of both sides while preserving the relationship. Try these principles to improve the outcome of your next deal.

Focus on people. Separate the people from the issues to avoid personalizing them. Make sure each party understands the other's perception of what is involved. Listen actively and speak to be understood -- not to argue a position.

Focus on interests. Behind each position lie compatible interests as well as conflicting ones. Put yourself in the other person's shoes; it'll help you identify interests. Ask yourself: "Why does she take such a position?" "Does any aspect of my proposal conflict with those interests?"

Focus on options. Work with the other party to generate a variety of options. Brainstorm before you start the decision-making process. Look for areas of agreement; you'll find them through your shared interests. Look for ways to dovetail differing interests; explore options that are of low cost to you and high benefit to the other party, and vice versa.

Other pointers:

  • Do your homework. Use the Internet and other sources to learn about the issue at hand.
  • Ask questions. The answers and information can lead to an agreement.
  • Don't be intimidated by "industry-speak." Always ask for clarification.
  • Cultivate the use of calculated silence; it may impel the other party to offer a concession.
  • Thank the other party at the conclusion of a negotiation, leaving the door open for future opportunities.

Copyright © 2000 Kimberly Stanséll. All Rights Reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form.

For more on effective negotiation, see this Inc. magazine artice, "I've Got a Secret . . ."