Small business people negotiate all of the time. Whether it is getting an account to pay up or dickering over a new contract, negotiating is what we do. But not all entrepreneurs are comfortable with negotiating. It makes some people nervous, for others, it is too adversarial.
But it shouldn’t be. Seen in the right light, negotiations are fun.
Why do I say that?
I used to negotiate for a living, back in my lawyer days, and one thing I learned is that the first trick to successful negotiations is to not take them too seriously. For practiced practitioners, negotiations are a game, and the sooner you realize that, the better.
It is sort of like golf. And although taking golf tips from me is, well, a joke, one thing I do know is that the harder you try, the more invested you are, the worse you tend to do. So trick one is to divest yourself as much as possible from the perfect score, because that rarely happens – in negotiations or in golf.
Indeed, paradoxically, it is when you seem not to care about the outcome that you have the most power in a negotiation. Remember the immortal words from the great musical West Side Story:
Boy, boy, crazy boy
Keep it cool, boy!
Breeze it, Buzz it
Easy does it
Turn off the juice, boy!
Here are some other tips from the negotiator’s bag of tricks:
Perfect the seemingly innocent question: When you go onto a car lot, what happens? The salesperson asks you what seem to be some mundane questions – how many kids do you have, what do you want the car for, etc. But far from being innocent, those questions are designed to elicit some important information from you, information they can use later to sell to you. In any negotiation, information is power. If you know that this office has been vacant for a year, your position vis-à-vis the potential new landlord is much stronger, no?
So perfect the “innocent,” friendly question. Not only does it make you seem interested and cooperative, which often leads to a more harmonious negotiation, but it can also garner some very useful information. You never know what you may discover.
Use a decoy: Create something that you do not really care about, but which you act as if is very important – your decoy. Then offer to give it up. Not only does this create goodwill, but it helps you get more of what you really want because you are willing to give up something of “importance.”
Be creative: There are many ways to get the same result. Maybe you are unable to give your manager that raise she deserves, but you probably could give her a few afternoons off a month. She will feel like she got something of value, and she did, and you still are able to preserve your budget by being creative.
Don’t be afraid of win–lose: Yes, I know, we are all supposed to strive for a win-win result. Kumbaya and all that. And mostly, that is true. Negotiations often work best when they are civil and everyone gets a bit of what they want.
But “mostly” is not always. There are times when you can, and should, really try and get what you want, or nothing at all. It may be because you have the upper hand, or because you really don’t care about making nice. Maybe you don’t want to compromise. Good for you. Go for a win and risk a loss.
You will live to negotiate another day.
Be willing to be a jerk: No one likes angry people, especially in a negotiation. But there are times, extreme times to be sure, but times when it behooves you to have people dislike you a bit, or, even better, fear you somewhat.
For instance, say that you purchased a new computer system for the office but it just isn’t working right. You had the company come out to fix it twice. The next time it malfunctions, consider what I call “the calculated blowup.” Call the owner and get angry, I mean really mad! Threaten to sue, or go to the press. Explain that you are tired of being reasonable. Get them to think you have become a bit unglued.
No one likes dealing with people like that, and it is highly likely that that they will work hard to placate you, if for no other reason than to shut you up. Later, you can apologize and say you are really sorry for getting so mad. Everyone will make nice. But they will not want to anger you again.
The squeaky wheel indeed gets the grease.
And don’t forget the basics:
· Don’t ever make the first offer: But if forced to, at least make it outrageous: “Shoot, I don’t know, I suppose I would pay $500 for those 10,000 widgets. What do you think they are worth?”
· Ask for more than you want. This is a negotiation after all. You will be expected to come up or down. By starting a ways away, you will end up closer to where you want to be.
*****Follow me on Twitter: @SteveStrauss