Negotiation is Never About You! Part 1

Evil Monkey Hates Negotiations

Okay, so yesterday I got a bit snarky and went on a terrible rant about poor Prince Humphrey and the abysmal negotiation tactics that got him into trouble. Today I wanted to calm things down and talk about negotiation a little bit. I have some specific suggestions for new negotiators that might help smooth the waters.

Negotiation is something we all have to contend with. It’s a fundamental communication technique that usually involves some form of transaction between two or more people. Communication is very easily derailed, as you likely already know. Since negotiation relies on communication to be effective, transactions can very easily fall apart.

Forget About What You Want

The single biggest mistake I see people make, is that they keep their own needs foremost in the conversation. This is natural. If you want your best friend Sue Ellen to pay you $100 for a fabulous painting you just made, well, you’re going to be thinking about your $100, and why you should have it. But Sue Ellen doesn’t give a damn about your money, your wants or your needs. Sue Ellen cares about the worth of the painting and whether or not it’s a good buy. Just because she’s your best friend doesn’t mean she’s still not personally motivated.

If you want to get Sue Ellen’s $100, you need to look at the transaction entirely from her perspective. You need to give her everything she’ll need to happily part with her money. That means, from a communications perspective, the $100 you want is incidental to the conversation, and not the priority. Talk about HER. What does SHE get. Put it in HER TERMS.

Value Is Subjective

Words like “ripped-off” or “bargain” are opinion words. They often feel like fact words, but they’re not.

If I tried to sell you a clump-covered coffee bean that my neighbour’s cat pooed out into the litter box, you’d likely say “GROSS! I am NOT paying money for cat poo! Get that away from me!” But coffee made from beans found in civet cat faeces sells for $1000 per kilogram. So clearly it has value to someone.

This is one of the biggest challenges for people trying to communicate value. The seller usually knows the history or use of the object and sees its worth. The potential buyer often hasn’t a clue, but is justifiably loath to part with hard-earned money. To get the seller’s interest, you have to take the open position that price of the object is a bargain, and be able to explain why.

That sounds obvious, right? Well, many people assume what they feel is an identical position, but they’re mistaken. They take a closed, defensive stance and say, “the price of the object is not a rip-off”. How is that different? Because this attitude ends conversation. A communicator with this position doesn’t have to explain themselves, or extol any features of the object, or try to sell in any way. From a buyer’s perspective, it’s not very appealing. I’ve watched a lot of deals fall through because of this approach.

Also, the phrase “the price of the object is not a rip-off”, contains an implicit judgment: “If you think this is a rip-off, then there must be something wrong with you.”

That’s very unlikely to get someone to open up their wallet.

This post is going to get very long very quickly, so I’m going to end here for now. There’s lots more to negotiation than just these two points, though, so stay tuned! Part 2 is coming your way very soon!

I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
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