1. Make Small Talk. Some think this is a waste of time. They’re simply wrong. The importance of building a rapport and establishing trust with someone with whom you’ll be negotiating cannot be overstated. It’s not necessary to spend a ton of time on this, but it’s a huge mistake to neglect the small talk.
2. Listen. This can be surprisingly difficult for intelligent and educated people who would rather talk about what they know. If you’re representing a client, take the time to get to know her. Ask her open ended questions to get this information. What does she want? Why does she want it? How can her needs be best met? What does she see as a successful outcome to the negotiation? Then turn around and ask the same questions to your adversary in the negotiation. Generally speaking, the best negotiators listen more than they speak.
3. Show That You’re Listening. Active listening skills are important. Maintain good eye contact. Lean in, nod occasionally and use your body language to show that you care about that person or his client. Rephrase what they’ve said and repeat it back to them to make sure you’re hearing what they’re saying. The famous and variously attributed quote that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care holds true. You’ll find a much more receptive negotiating partner if you show that you care about him and/or his client.
4. Empathize. Put yourself into the shoes of your adversary or his client. How would you feel if you were in their position? If that person feels he has been wronged, assume for the purpose of empathizing that everything they claim was done to them actually occurred. If you or your client were wronged in that way, how would you feel?
5. Show That You Empathize. You don’t have to agree to their version of events. It’s unlikely that you will. But it’s important that you show that you understand how they feel based on what they perceive to have happened. Half of the battle in a negotiation is allowing a party to express their feelings and to have those feelings acknowledged.
6. Never Lie. Engaging in puffery is acceptable. Puffery is generally defined as exaggerating about subjective matters that can’t be objectively determined. So if a real estate agent says that a house is the prettiest one in the neighborhood, that’s a subjective claim that at worst could be puffery. If she says instead that the house has been appraised at $300,000.00, then she had better be telling the truth. Don’t lie. Ever.
7. Find Common Ground. Even if it’s a small thing, finding some shared interest that can be agreed upon early is a good way to build trust and rapport.
8. Table Difficult Issues. If you reach an impasse on a particular point, move on and come back to it later. Far too many negotiations break down early because the parties start bickering over one part of the negotiation and dig in their heels. So if it’s clear that this is starting to happen, agree to disagree and to address that issue at a later time. If the negotiation as a whole is breaking down, table the whole thing and change the subject. Talk about the weather, your families, or anything but the negotiation. It’s possible that once you find some common ground, the negotiation will proceed more smoothly.
9. Be Creative. A negotiation is rarely a zero sum game, where everything one party wins results in another party losing. What does the other side need? What do they want? What are their interests and motivations? Is there some outside of the box way to meet or satisfy those? What a person says they want is just the starting point. Dig deeper and figure out whether that’s what they really want or why they want it. Once you do, you’ll be a in a far better position to craft a solution that meets those needs or satisfies those interests.
10. Focus on the Relationship. Most negotiations involve at least the prospect of an ongoing relationship with the current adversary. As such, engaging in deceit or cutthroat tactics can be very destructive. In addition to the obvious ethical issues of such behavior, it’s generally not in a party’s best interest to behave that way in a negotiation.
11. Use the Judge/Grandmother Rule. Pretend the negotiation is being videotaped and will later be viewed by either your grandmother or a Judge. Would you feel comfortable explaining what you’re saying or doing to either or both of them? If not, then it’s important to do some self-reflection and ask why that is the case.
12. Have Fun. Negotiation doesn’t have to be stressful and can be a lot of fun. The worst case scenario is that the negotiation is unsuccessful and both parties are left in the same position they were in. The best case scenario is that the negotiation is wildly successful, all conflicts are resolved, and both (or all) parties are pleased with the outcome. Most negotiations end with a result somewhere between those two extremes. But that still leaves the parties better off than they were.