How to Be a Smart Negotiator

How to Use the Internal Champions Method to Persuade Decision Makers

Whether you are asking for a raise, haggling with a merchant, or in an argument with your partner, you need to be a good negotiator.

There are three main goals of any negotiation:

  • It should produce an agreement
  • It should be efficient
  • It should improve (or at least not damage) the relationship between the parties.

What kind of negotiator are you?

The Soft Negotiator

You would rather yield than be confronted with a conflict. You often get exploited and harbour
feelings of bitterness or resentment toward the other party afterward.

The Hard Negotiator

You will do anything it takes to win. You see negotiations as a testament of wills and your competitive nature allows you to hold out for maximum gain.

The best negotiators are actually a combination of both. You want to be hard on the issue, but soft on the people.

According to the Harvard Negotiation Project, you should try to find mutual gains whenever possible rather than haggling over positions. Arguing over a position tends to make you more committed to that position. The more under attack you feel, the stronger you may be willing to defend your position. If the other party does the same, then it makes resolution more difficult.

Instead, try the following tips:

  • Be objective. Do not allow your emotions to enter into the arena.
  • Focus on the interests. If the interests are not clear, ask probing questions (who, what, when, why, how…). This way each side can see the issue from the other’s perspective.
  • Allow the other party to save-face. This means, you never want to gloat or ridicule the other party. This is so important because people will often hold onto their flawed position rather than concede just because they don’t want to look like a loser. People are more likely to accept an outcome that is perceived to be fair.
  • Be an active listener. This will allow you to understand their perceptions, emotions, and assumptions. Once you feel you adequately understand their position, repeat it back to them to make sure you have it correctly. This will do two things: (a) make you understand the issue so you can work toward a resolution; and (b) let them know that their concerns are heard so they don’t endlessly explain their point of view.
  • If at all possible, limit the number of people in the negotiation. This will make communication easier.
  • Before making a significant statement, you should have an idea of what you want to say and what information you want to find out. Once you find that information out, you should know what to do with it.

Negotiating Interests Rather than Positions

Consider an example of how this strategy works. You live in an apartment building and you like to watch your TV loudly. Your neighbour approaches you one day and asks you to turn the volume down.

An exchange over POSITION would look something like this:

Neighbour: Can you please turn the volume on your TV down, it’s too loud.

You: But then I won’t be able to get the full experience of my show.

Neighbour: Well, you have to turn it down, it’s too loud.

You: I don’t have to do anything.

…and on and on it goes until one of you decides to move out, get the other one evicted, threaten violence…

A smart negotiation over INTERESTS would look something like this:

Neighbour: Can you please turn the volume on your TV down, it’s too loud.

You: Why do you feel it’s too loud?

Neighbour: Well, I have to work in the morning and I have trouble falling asleep.

You: Okay, I’m sorry for the disruption, thank you for bringing it to my attention. I understand that the volume is too loud when you try to sleep, but if I turn the volume down, I won’t be able to get the full experience of my show. How about I won’t watch shows past 10:00 p.m.?

Neighbour: Deal.

Instead of haggling over the volume (position) get to the root of the problem by asking probing questions to figure out what each person’s interests are. 

In the second example, you asked a probing question and actively listened to their concern. The position was the level of volume, but their interest was to sleep. Once you repeated the issue back to them, you offered a fair solution, and maintained the relationship. 

Now that’s win-win!