The Negotiator Magazine

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Improving Your Negotiating Skills: Tips learned in the Trenches

David Wachtel

At the beginning of training sessions, I ask students what makes them uncomfortable about negotiating. The answers generally are:

“I am afraid I will not get the best deal.”

“I do not enjoy working with certain types of people.”

“I am not always clear on what needs to be accomplished in a particular negotiation and how to get there.”

“I can get lost in the process. While getting bogged down in details, I lose track of what I really want to accomplish.”

Here are some tips to help with your negotiating efforts:

Tip #1: Negotiating is not merely a series of compromises

Most people negotiate using a zero sum process. They look at what they want, raise that 10 or 15 percent, and then engage is a series of compromises to get to a result. The effort is on the position they take, and getting as much of that position for themselves as possible. Their mission is not to get a satisfactory deal for both parties. It is to win. Many call that, “being a tough negotiator.” It is extremely stressful.

The tendency is to negotiate from the standpoint of positions. Most negotiators never really stop to ask why they want, what they want, or even consider why the other side is negotiating.

Fisher and Ury define negotiating as “Back and forth communication where some interests are shared and some are opposed.” The purpose of negotiating is seeing if you can get your interests met through an agreement. An interest is why you want something, not what you want. When negotiators begin working from the standpoint of interests, they can begin to work with the other party to explore alternative solutions.

What I have found interesting is the number of students who find informing the other side why they want something uncomfortable. They compare it to showing their cards. Negotiating does not have to be arguing over who gets the most. At its best, it is two parties working to solve a problem. The problem cannot be solved to everyone’s satisfaction unless all parties understand it. Why the parties want something is where the process of problem solving begins.

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April 2005