Much of the negotiation process is about determining the value or worth of a particular outcome or deal. Two or more negotiating parties must therefore try to value what they want and try to guess what the other party wants in return.
Everything we have to offer has a value! Even the most trivial of items or points should be seen to have some value. It may have low or no value to you but it may have some or a lot of value to the other party without you knowing. The key bargaining rule is “never make a gift of any concession” – in other words – give nothing away for nothing.
The best trading approach to take in these circumstances is to use the words “if, then” to make offers and suggestions as often as possible. For example, in negotiating to buy a second-hand car you might say: “If I accept the marks and scratches on the product then will you give me a two-year warranty?”
Ultimately, in trading, your key aim is to maximize the value of any concession you make, whilst minimizing the value of concessions offered by the other party. This is not easy to do and requires a high level of credibility. Not everything can be credibly declared to be absolutely critical for you and in the same way, not every concession offered by the other side is trivial or worthless (and constantly treating it as such will just annoy the other party).
Apart from words, the negotiating arena is likely to see the use of some tell-tale body language as well as some particular behavioral traits. Both negotiating parties are likely to be communicating through body language, so you have to guard your own behavior and watch the other party (who will also be watching you) at the same time. However, perhaps the greatest skill to deploy in any negotiation is active listening.
Active listening involves being entirely tuned in to what the other party is communicating, as most everyday listening is usually only done passively. That is, we listen broadly but let out minds wander, guess what is going to be said, become distracted etc. On the other hand, active listening involves a much higher level of concentration and focus and a direct attempt not to become distracted.
When you are actively listening, you tend not to assume what will be said and thus adopt a much more patient approach, letting the other party finish speaking. When you listen in this way your ears are open and ready to learn something that will potentially benefit both you and the other party in the negotiation.
The other key skill in any face-to-face negotiation is asking really well-crafted questions. Asking good questions is an art that requires considerable practice. There are three basic rules to keep in mind when engaged in questioning (in negotiating as well as other situations):
- Phrase questions with great care
- Use many more open questions that help to omit yes/no or single word answers
- Listen carefully to responses to probe with the next question.
Bear in mind that there are four types of questions that can be used in a negotiation. These are:
- Open questions are used to gather more information (and avoiding getting that Yes/No answer).
- Closed questions are used to get a clear “yes” or “no” response.
- Probing questions which are also information gathering in nature but also look for ways to move the negotiation forward.
- Paraphrasing questions such as “so does that mean …? “Are you saying …?” These serve to briefly summarize what has been said and verify understanding (for both parties).
Asking good questions of any of the above kind is a practice that both parties will engage in (and is helpful to clarify where the potential may lie for compromise or agreement). However, the key to success is still very much to carefully and actively listen to responses when you have asked any of the above types of questions and watch the other party’s body language, as this is likely to provide the most information on how both parties may reach a mutually satisfactory outcome.