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You Can Always Get What You Want: Negotiate Like A Diplomat

Solo and small business owners can use knowledge of negotiation just as well as corporate honchos who commandeer the massive mega-monolith empires of the business world. In fact when you’re self-employed, strong interpersonal skills are even more crucial than they are in a bigger outfit. As the face of your business, everything you or your staff presents to the world is a reflection of your brand. If you want to be perceived as capable and trustworthy, you must be able to demonstrate that you possess the polish and finesse to handle whatever your affiliates, colleagues and customers desire. You’ll need these skills at hand so you don’t even have to think about them.

Here are the simple-but-powerful secrets of top negotiating talents:

1. Skillful negotiators discuss the key issues in order of priority.

Prepare yourself with a clear idea of what the two or three key issues are and which is the most important. Start with the most important issues and proceed to those that matter less. If you can reach agreement on the most important things, the lesser issues will most likely be easier to resolve.

Carla wants her next family vacation to be something really special—either a trip to Naples to visit her family’s roots, or Hawaii. She and her husband and son have visited relatives or done local camping trips for their past few vacations. She wants to have a memorable vacation before their adolescent son Tony grows up and moves away. She presents the key issues to her husband in this fashion: 1) In two years, Tony will leave home. He is not likely to take a vacation with us after he finishes school; 2) It’s reasonable to want an exceptional vacation at least once in your life; 3) If we plan ahead and pay attention to our spending, we will be able to afford the cost of such an ambitious trip.

2.   Strong negotiators never indulge their emotions.

This includes any of the following kinds of behavior: an aggressive or intimidating manner, sarcasm, closed-off body language, or talking loudly. Not only do skilled negotiators avoid such behavior, they work hard to convey an attitude of cooperation and openness, wanting to always be reasonable and friendly.

Jed is negotiating the details of an office expansion. When he followed up with the property manager about his interest in taking the newly-vacant office suite next door as additional space, he was told it had mistakenly been rented to a new incoming tenant.

What Jed thinks is, “If you had kept track of our conversation from last month, I could have moved into that space without the hassle of relocating. What an idiot. I can’t count on you for anything.” But what Jed says is, “Well, that’s disappointing. It would have been convenient for us, but let’s set a time to meet soon so I can show you exactly what our space needs are right now.  I’m really under pressure to move forward with this.”

3.   Good negotiators derail the defend/attack spiral.

We’ve all experienced getting caught in one of these unproductive spirals. Rather than perpetuating the pattern, the successful negotiator puts a stop to it with non-defensive behavior.

Jim and Anne are planning how to handle a problem employee with chronic and unexplained absenteeism. Jim wants to give him more chances and Anne is alarmed. The stress is wearing on both of them:

Scenario A

Jim: “I can’t believe you are being so rigid.”

Anne: “Rigid! You should talk! I can’t believe you’re being so unreasonable about this.”

Jim: “You should try listening to yourself. Forget it! Whatever made me think I could run a business with you anyway? You’re impossible!”

Scenario B

Jim: “I can’t believe you are being so rigid.”

Anne: “You’re not happy with what I’ve asked for.”

Jim: “You’re damn right! You have to consider what I want.”

Anne: “Tell me more about it, then. I’ll listen. I want this to get resolved too.”

In A, Jim and Anne dig themselves in deeper with each statement. In B, Anne blocks the defend/attack spiral and makes it possible for communication to resume.

With a little practice, you can adopt these simple skills to be a natural part of your own repertoire. You’ll definitely get more of what you want in life, without coming across like a bully. In fact, these skills help you reach agreements that are more likely to satisfy both parties, while maintaining a positive relationship. Try them in your work life or at home—they’re equally effective in either setting.

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