Negotiating in a Nutshell

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By Harvey Mackay

I got a phone call from a Fortune 500 CEO last week whom I had never met. After decades of begging the government to relax their regulatory grip and let his industry experience the joys of competition, his wish had been granted — and his bottom line had plummeted.

He wanted me to talk to his top executives for two hours and zero in on negotiating strategies.

A bit overwhelmed, I said, “I’m very flattered but frankly, I don’t know if I can talk for two hours on negotiating.”

Then I realized I was actually negotiating with myself. As my brain finally reconnected, I cut myself off. “Well, let me sleep on it and I’ll get back to you.”

Later that evening, I began to write down some of my negotiating experiences and saw that my problem was going to be holding the speech down to two hours.

I’d already brushed up against the first and second laws of negotiating that morning in my conversation with the CEO.

  1. Never accept any proposal immediately, no matter how good it sounds.
  2. Never negotiate with yourself. You’ll furnish the other side with ammunition they might never have gotten themselves. Don’t raise a bid or lower an offer without first getting a response.

Here are some more rules of the road:

  1. Never cut a deal with someone who has to “go back and get the boss’ approval.” That gives the other side two bites of the apple to your one. They can take any deal you are willing to make and renegotiate it.
  2. If you can’t say yes, it’s no. Just because a deal can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. No one ever went broke saying “no” too often.
  3. Just because it may look nonnegotiable, doesn’t mean it is. Take that beautifully printed “standard contract” you’ve just been handed. Many a smart negotiator has been able to name a term and gets away with it by making it appear to be chiseled in granite, when they will deal if their bluff is called.
  4. Do your homework before you deal. Learn as much as you can about the other side. Instincts are no match for information.
  5. Rehearse. Practice. Get someone to play the other side. Then switch roles. Instincts are no match for preparation.
  6. Beware the late dealer. Feigning indifference or casually disregarding timetables is often just a negotiator’s way of trying to make you believe he/she doesn’t care if you make the deal or not.
  7. Be nice, but if you can’t be nice, go away and let someone else do the deal. You’ll blow it.
  8. A deal can always be made when both parties see their own benefit in making it.
  9. A dream is a bargain no matter what you pay for it. Set the scene. Tell the tale. Generate excitement. Help the other side visualize the benefits, and they’ll sell themselves.
  10. Don’t discuss your business where it can be overheard by others. Almost as many deals have gone down in elevators as elevators have gone down.
  11. Watch the game films. Top players in any game, including negotiating, debrief themselves immediately after every major session. They always keep a book on themselves and the other side.
  12. No one is going to show you their hole card. You have to figure out what they really want. Clue: Since the given reason is never the real reason, you can eliminate the given reason.
  13. Always let the other side talk first. Their first offer could surprise you and be better than you ever expected.
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