The #1 Way To Start A Negotiation

How you start a negotiation can determine how it will end
How you start a negotiation can determine how it will end
Image Credit: Wesley Lelieveld

Whenever we sit down across the table from the other party, the big question that hangs in the air is just exactly how should we go about starting this negotiation? There are almost a countless number of possibilities here. However, if we want to be able to reach the deal that we desire with the other side, then we’re going to have to be smart enough to start things out the right way. But what is the right way?

The Correct Way To Start A Negotiation

So let’s give this some thought, what would be the best way to start a negotiation? There are a lot of tough ways that we can start things out: make some demands, pound on the table, raise our voices, etc. However, I’m going to suggest that there is a better way. I think that you should start out every negotiation in a cooperative fashion. What this means is that you come across as being a nice person and you exhibit a congenial, low-key façade of very carefully calculated incompetence. Yep, you heard me right!

Here’s why this approach has worked out for me. One of the most powerful reasons for having you start out by being cooperative is that there is a possibility that by doing this, the other side will decide to also start out being cooperative. The fancy term for this kind of behavior is “reciprocity” which simply means that they’ll feel that they owe you for being so nice to them.

I’d like to be able to tell you that this is going to work with everyone that you sit down to negotiate with. However, that’s not going to be the case. When you are negotiating with a real hard case who can’t be bothered to be nice to you, then they are going to be thrilled to be negotiating with you because they will see you as being weak. Your soft style and pleasant, easy-going nature sends a clear signal of “push over” to them. They will probably charge into the negotiations, become hostile, and try to wrap things up quickly. However, in order to stay in control all that you have to do is to slow things down and make sure that you don’t react to what they are doing in the way that they expect you to.

It’s All About Flow

Whenever we come up against a tough negotiator we all know that we have two natural responses: fight or flight. We can meet them on their own terms and battle it out or we can pack our things up and leave. However, there is good news here. It turns out that we all have a third option that often we may not be aware of. This option is to flow.

What you need do when the other side gets tough with you is to lighten up and have a conversation with yourself. What you are going to be wanting to tell yourself is that what you are currently engaged in is a game and that right now it’s show time. When the other side pulls a stunt with you and attempts to force you to do something that you really don’t want to do, tell them that you are impressed with their style and ask them to do it again, just slower this time. This will shut them up.

What you always need to keep in mind is that as things are progressing in your negotiation, time is also passing. This means that the other side of the table is becoming more and more invested in the outcome of the negotiations. What this means for you is that it is becoming harder and harder for the other side to divest themselves of the negotiations because of what they have invested in it. When they start to realize that their confrontational approach is going to prevent them from being able to reach a deal, what you are going to see is their behavior become modified to become more agreeable.

What All Of This Means For You

I’m pretty sure that most of us have heard this before, but we probably can’t hear it too many times: it’s how you start out a principled negotiation that can determine how the negotiation ends up. When we’re starting out we’ve got a wide range of different negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that we can choose from. However, it turns out that there is one technique that will serve us the best: starting out every negotiation in a cooperative fashion.

You might push back at this idea – don’t the best negotiators always go in guns blazing? It turns out that the answer to that question is no. Instead, what you are going to want to do is to start off being nice because there is a possibility that you might be able to convince the other side to be nice also. If they decide that they want to be a bully, then you being nice will allow you to slow things down and treat the negotiation like a game. Ultimately, they’ll understand that their aggressive tactics are not going to work and they’ll end up changing their ways.

One of the challenges of trying to be nice during a negotiation is that it seems to go against our basic ″fight or flight″ mechanism. It does take effort. However, I speak from experience when I tell you that this is a powerful technique and that if you use it, your chances of getting the deal that you want out of your next negotiation just increased dramatically.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: if the other side demands that you make a snap decision, what is the best way for a nice person to respond to a request like this?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If there is one thing that I think that we’d all like to have then it is to be thought of as a ″successful negotiator″. We know that this is a good thing, but I’m not sure if we can tell someone what it means with 100% clarity. Is it based on negotiation styles and negotiating techniques? Clearly successful negotiators are able to get the deals that they want; however, it’s more than that – just exactly how do they go about getting those deals in the first place?