Much of the negotiation process (whenever and wherever it is carried out) is about determining the value or worth of a particular outcome or deal. If this is pretty clear and the transaction volume is high, there is no need for negotiation at all – like selling food in a supermarket. Here, the supermarket just posts the price and the consumer buys it if they like it (no negotiating necessary or wanted).
However, such simple clarity is rarely a part of a longer-term negotiation and the two or more negotiating parties must therefore try to value what they want and try to guess what the other wants in return. In this ‘muddy’ value trading game everything we have to offer has a value. In other words, even the most trivial of negotiable items or points should be seen to have some value. It may have low or no value to one party but it may have some or a lot of value to the other party without you knowing.
Given the above, the key role when negotiating (or when bargaining in a labor relations climate for example) is “never make a gift of any concession” – or do not give anything away for nothing. In addition, it is important to adopt a reluctant conceding style, as if everything that you trade is valuable and must be met with something of equal value or worth.
In language terms, the best trading approach to take is to use “if, then” to make offers and suggestions as often as possible, e.g.:
- “If I accept the marks and scratches on the product then will you give me a two year warranty?”
- “If I agree to a lower price by 15%, then can you commit to another similar sized order in 6 months time?”
Ultimately, in bartering or trading, your key aim is to maximize the value of any concession that you make (e.g. this is saying “I wouldn’t do that normally but with a lot more work on my part, I suppose I could…”), whilst at the same time, minimize the value of concessions offered by the other party (e.g. “well, I suppose that is at least a little progress in the right direction”).
This isn’t always an easy path to take and requires high levels of credibility to be established. Not everything can be credibly declared to be absolutely critical for you. In the same way not every concession offered by the other side is trivial or worthless – we need to strike a careful balance.
Negotiation can be quite a formal and even ‘ritualistic’ form of communication. This is particularly evident as the verbal bartering and bantering starts to look almost like a ‘dance’ without music (particularly as both sides use “if, then” statements a lot). However, it is important to remember that the plain words of the negotiation are always accurate about what is being proposed. In some cases, we have to read the more hidden or subtle meanings “between the lines”.
Here are a few examples – the hidden message is revealed by the words in brackets:
- I think we’re there (almost, just one more small request I’d like you to agree to)
- I’m sure you are a reasonable person (trust me – I am completely reasonable)
- Look, to be entirely honest (I don’t like what you’ve just said at all)
- Yes, that’s much better for both of us (it’s much better for me than you)
- It would be very hard to concede that (I’m ready to concede it if you make a high enough offer)
- Not at this stage (make the same offer later)
- We cannot discount the price by 15% (would you accept 10%?)
Apart from words, the negotiating arena is likely to see the use of some tell-tale body language as well variations in tone of voice. Unfortunately, as emotional ‘animals’, both negotiating parties are unlikely to be able to readily camouflage their body language or tone of voice all of the time, so you have to carefully guard your own visible behavior and actions and watch the other party (who will also be watching you) at the same time.