Strategic Negotiating: Getting What You Want


The image of today’s negotiator may reflect the cult film Glengarry Glen Ross, complete with the door-busting, aggressive go-getter. However, in real life getting what you want requires more subtlety and a working knowledge of psychology.

Taking the Cerebral Approach

Anyone who plays poker knows the most important hand isn’t their own, it’s their opponents’. In business, stack the odds in your favor by figuring out what’s most important to your opponent; this allows you to take the power position during discussions.

The experienced negotiator will present statistics as facts, hoping you will accept them as such. So protect your interests by knowing what you’re talking about and using provable facts. Demonstrate your strong hand by presenting these facts in an unbiased and professional manner.

Negotiating means establishing a high perceived value for your position. Although the facts may not be in question, you need to convince your opposition that your position adds value over and above the norm. Reinforce the fact that your solution would generate higher profits, or your offer includes things that, by virtue of your skills/experience, only your company can provide.

Show, Don’t Tell

Anyone who’s been to a bazaar knows vendors always set prices that are three times the actual cost. Bazaar vendors may not be Harvard Business Review readers, but they’re some of the savviest negotiators around and worth learning from.

These vendors know the price should always be set higher so buyers feel like they’ve won or reached a favorable compromise.

More important, they’ve also mastered the art of subtlety; they never reveal their final position or display too much interest in an offer. They know that body language “tells” and will give away your position no matter how carefully you’ve rehearsed your words.

Turn the Tables

When presented with an offer, remember that you’re not required to jump at it. Keep body language in check and take a cue from both J. Edgar Hoover and basic contract law by proposing a counter offer. Act confident and turn the tables. You may achieve more than you imagined.

The Golden Rule

If there’s one golden rule to getting what you want, it’s never to disclose exactly what it is you do want. Instead, play your cards so that your opponent believes that your idea is actually his or her idea. Naturally, people would much rather give you what they want, rather than what you want. If they believe they are giving you what they want themselves, then you’ve achieved exactly what you wanted to achieve.

No One Is the Winner

After all is said and done, the art of negotiation is nothing more than trying to convince the other person of the merits of your position. Once that person buys into your argument, he or she is happy with the result. In a negotiation, the last thing you want is for your opponent to leave feeling he or she got a bad deal. That doesn’t help your reputation and will sour further negotiations. You’re really looking for a win-win.