The art of negotiation has existed since the beginning of civilized history; perhaps even before. In fact, the system of trading goods and services, or bartering, actually dates back to the Mesopatamian tribes of 6000 BC. To compare with modern times, imagine going to a yard or tag sale. Although the cost is usually clearly marked on the item, it is common practice to negotiate a more affordable or desirable price.
Believe it or not, the concept of business negotiation — although considerably more advanced — bears some similarities to these basic or even early forms of sales and trading.
Research associate for Harvard Business School, author, and editor of the “Negotiation Briefings” newsletter, Katherine Shonk, answers the question: Why is negotiation an important factor in business? To start, “our role in our organization and industry is almost constantly up for negotiation”. She continues that there is no underestimating the advantages of negotiation in business which frequently outweighs the costs, “such as the time it takes to prepare”.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can also become a great business negotiator, and succeed in your career of choice.
1. Do your research
As with practically anything else you do in life, it is always important to do your research first. Take the time to learn about the company and/or individuals you will be negotiating terms with. Don’t just do a quick basic Google search; make an effort to actually learn how the company was founded, who its principal players are, their profit margin, their company policies, etc. Ensure that you are armed with the right knowledge and facts before you approach the table.
2. Know your opponent
“Opponent” may be a strong term here as it infers conflict or resistance. However, it is important to know the person(s) you will be working with. If possible, be open to learning all you can about your counterpart(s); such as their likes and dislikes, perhaps even their political standing, whether they are family-oriented, the kind of music and books they like, and so forth. While seemingly inane at first glance, these aspects can actually offer you an overall sense of the individual(s) you will be dealing with, making general communication easier, especially during your initial encounter. You can also use this information to tailor your negotiation pitch in a way that will appeal to them on a more personal level.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
As we all know, the best way to acquire necessary information is to ask the right questions. If you are unsure of something, don’t be concerned with appearing ignorant or uninformed; ask your questions(s) anyhow. This will show your counterpart that you are not afraid to admit when you don’t understand something, and, therefore, are not afraid to meet challenges head on. It is also a good tactic in the event that the other party is not as informed as they led you to believe, and the two of you can work together to gather all of the necessary information before proceeding.
4. Keep the negotiations balanced
While it’s important to be cordial and solicitous, you must also be careful not to offer too much without the guarantee of something in return. Being “too good of a sport”, or even overly generous, can actually backfire on you in terms of business negotiation. Let your counterpart know what you may have to offer and see what they present in terms of trade before promising or giving away anything too valuable.
It’s vital to remember that negotiations are essentially business deals, but it is also crucial to realize that you will also be forging new relationships. While you may think this particular negotiation is only a one-time deal, you never know what the future will bring. This single occasion could reoccur in year or more, and actually result in a profitable client or even a business partner. Be sure to be professional yet friendly, precise yet honest, and do your homework. Walk into the negotiating room with confidence and a smile. You’ve got this!
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