The single most important thing you can do to negotiate better deals

Negotiation skills aren’t just for high-level diplomats or CEOs – we rely on them for many daily interactions.

By Gina London Director of Strategy, Fuzion

I’VE TAUGHT NEGOTIATION workshops and seminars in several countries across three continents and one thing I keep stressing is that negotiations are not reserved for big boardrooms or the United Nations. We negotiate all the time, every day, no matter who we are.

Think about it. Almost every single interaction in life – not only the big-money deals or trying to turn a prospect into a client – but the seemingly little things, like deciding with your friends what movie you’ll see or choosing with your partner which new restaurant you should try, are also negotiations.

Think about buying a car – or especially, for those of you with kids, think about nearly every interaction with them. Like trying to get your child out of bed and dressed to get to school on time. All of these examples involve negotiations!

Some basic tenets you may already have learned about negotiating are:

  • Identifying goals, short-term and long-term
  • Identifying obstacles
  • Listing decision makers, third-party advocates and performing stakeholder analysis
  • Worst-case-scenario planning

And, of course, you have to add due diligence and prep time to all of this. And there’s an emphasis on following a process. It’s exhausting.

But… Organisational-behaviour experts and researchers are applying a new structure – and I’ve adapted it for many of the large, multinational clients I work with too. From wherever you are at the moment, there is one simple but incredibly effective question that will help you get more.

Being human

While emphasising the importance of valuing the human ‘factor’ may already sound familiar to you, we don’t often deploy these new techniques in a deliberative and strategic fashion for every negotiation we encounter.

Too often, for the big, high-stake negotiations – like a contract or a multimillion-euro deal – we put aside the emotional stuff and depend rather on the facts, data and other ‘rational’ information, like value propositions or projections and so on, to try and make our case.

But the research today shows we will have a higher rate of success if we invest more time on the human emotion of the person sitting across from us at the table.

Tapping into emotions

The notion of tapping into the emotions of another person may seem super-obvious – or maybe super-foreign – but the question I often get is, “OK, I get it from a philosophical point of view, but how exactly do I do this?”

Simple. Start your next negotiations by asking a question: “So, how’s it going?”

Now, that may seem like a silly little thing – but there are four principles buried into that question:

  1. It’s informal and takes the pressure off of the deal at the outset
  2. It’s a question and questions are a great way to gather information
  3. It’s focused on the other party, not yourself, and that’s great for building trust and getting to know more about their emotions and perceptions
  4. The question establishes a little comfort and rapport by being chatty and informal. It’s good, old-fashioned small talk.

Getting inside people’s heads

The reason we need to ask more questions is we need to spend time understanding what’s going on inside the head of the other person.

They may have received a speeding ticket while driving to the meeting. They may have recently lost a loved one. Outside influences can have serious influence on your meeting, but you will never know unless you ask.

The other person must be more important than you for your own goals to be met. This focus on people and relationships is not a weak negotiating tool – and it isn’t the only one, of course. But my experience has shown it is the key.

Making a connection with another person is the MOST persuasive thing that you can do. Make friends with the other party and they’ll help you find ways to achieve your goals.

Gina London is an award-winning former CNN correspondent who now serves as director of strategic communications at Fuzion.

If you want to share your opinion, advice or story, email opinion@fora.ie.

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