There are few skills that can rival negotiation in terms of relevance, longevity, and number of applications. While we’re enamored with all the new jobs and skills our burgeoning economy has produced in the last 10 years, from App Developers to Social Media Managers, negotiation could easily top the list of the most important skills from the past several millennia.
Surprisingly, it’s not a topic that’s frequently discussed or taught (except perhaps in more specialized settings). Yet, great negotiations skills could be put to good use on an almost daily basis - think salary raises, promotions, buying a new property/car, discussing a contract, signing new business, or even picking something up in a local market.
Easily the biggest step you can make to improve your negotiation skills is to be well-prepared. Most will go in having done some research or background reading on the topic, but few will focus on being better prepared than the other party.
If you’re negotiating a real estate transaction, understand what other properties have sold for in the area, how long they were on the market, and if there are any other similar properties currently being sold. You’ll also want to gauge whether the seller is looking to sell quickly (e.g. they just bought another house) or whether they’re in no rush to move out.
Know your BATNA
In negotiation, the BATNA (or best alternative to a negotiated agreement) is the point at which you no longer benefit from continuing to negotiate. As Roger Fisher and William Ury point out in their seminal text Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In you negotiate to produce better results than you could have received from not negotiating in the first place. Therefore, you shouldn’t continue if it’s going to leave you worse off.
The BATNA acts as a useful anchor in negotiations and allows a party to establish at what point they can walk away. In the case of an employee looking at potentially leaving their present employer, a competing offer from another employer would be their BATNA during negotiations with their existing company.
Expanding the pie
Most successful negotiators are extremely creative - you need to be too. It’s easy to overly focus on a few key items when negotiating. In the case of salary negotiation, you might have a particular salary or even title in mind. In the event you reach a deadlock, expand the pie in terms of items under discussion. In the case of an employer, they may have a hard-cap in terms of what they can pay you - look for other ways you can make up that difference.
Maybe you would accept a few extra days of paid vacation instead? Perhaps there’s a conference each year you always want to attend? The reality is when you get creative you can far surpass the dollar amount you originally set for yourself in the first place by looking at other ways to be compensated.
Avoid a zero-sum mentality
Most negotiations appear to be cases of win vs. lose (i.e. in order for one party to walk away happy, the other has to be unhappy). This defines the discussions in very narrow terms and usually leaves very little in the way of creativity. In these cases, both parties usually walk-away worse off.