We’ve all been there, staring across the table, desperately trying to outwit the person on the other side. You grow tenser by the minute as beads of sweat form on your head. It’s you vs. them, and there can only be one winner.
We’ve been taught to view negotiation as a battle where one side is victorious and the other a chump. But we need to reframe our approach as negotiating with rather than against someone.
In his book 'Never Split the Difference', Chris Voss explains that negotiating is a psychological exercise, one in which we should view the person on the other side of the table as a partner. The true opponent? The issue itself. This partner can help get us where we need to be.
Let’s say you’re negotiating a contract with a prospective client. They want the most work for the least amount of money, and you’re trying to maximise your take. You must come to an agreement that makes everyone comfortable. Your opponent is the scope of work: you want more money; your client wants to pay less for it.
Below are three easy-to-implement tricks I use to re-frame how I approach negotiation.
1. Be a mirror
Repeat the last three words of a statement to show you understand your partner’s viewpoint. Repeating something back lets them reflect on their request and determine feasibility. Example:
- Boss: “I need this assignment ready within three days.”
- You: “Sorry, three days?”
- Boss: “Yes, we need to move quickly.”
- You: “I understand. We need to move quickly, and the client needs this in three days.”
- Boss: “Well they didn’t technically request it in three days. Let me check and get back to you.”
2. Use odd numbers
People generally default to what they’re comfortable with and what feels familiar. Say you’re negotiating with your client and your going rate is $100,000 per project. Asking for $100,000 leaves the client feeling there’s room to negotiate, which means you’ll likely end up getting less. However, providing a cost of $101,392 suggests this number was arrived upon after serious and deliberate calculation.
3. Use calibrated questions
Recall the overarching rule of negotiation: put the other side at ease by showing empathy and understanding. Let’s say you’re asked to lower your price, which happens a lot. Instead of making concessions or trying to increase the price, shift the onus by asking, “How might I do that?” If done correctly, you’ll deflect the request, demonstrate empathy and show you’re engaged in solving the problem. This requires finesse in tone and timing, but if done well, it can be a useful tool in a negotiator’s arsenal.
I’d encourage anyone who negotiates regularly to consider this partnership strategy. In a world marked by mutually assured destruction, companies that work together to find mutually beneficial outcomes have an advantage. And they allow people to feel at ease and focus on solving the problem with you, instead of battling against you.
Jon Barnett is account director at Cactus