How to Negotiate Just About Anything (You Already Know How)

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If you’ve ever wondered how someone can negotiate their way to a new car at the dealer’s price or a priceless antique for pennies on the dollar, take heart. You already have all the negotiating skills you’ll ever need; you just need to hone them so you can use them to negotiate your way to a better life.

Negotiation is not just about getting a better price for a product or service. It’s about dramatically improving the quality of your life, creating better outcomes for everyone, and even building more harmonious relationships (for example, when you negotiate with a spouse or child). Yet many people fear negotiation—mostly, because they just aren’t comfortable with the process and don’t feel they possess the necessary skills. Becoming a better negotiator can help you get a larger share of what you want, attain more of your goals, and better develop the ways you spend your days on this earth. Here are a few tips for developing your negotiation skills:

Know what you don’t want, what you do want, and what’s even better.

One of the most important things a negotiator can do is figure out what she is trying to gain or achieve. As simple as it sounds, many people don’t truly know their own motivations. Once you remedy this problem, you can be purposeful in keeping the process moving toward your goals and avoiding measures that might throw you off course. So, what does a really good outcome look like? It tends to leave you with most of the things you want, both substantively and with regard to the people you are negotiating with.

It’s important to keep in mind that what you view as being a ‘good’ outcome might not be that good if it leaves the other negotiating party feeling worse off or victimized. Chances are you’ll need to negotiate with certain people on more than one occasion and you don’t want to burn those bridges by leaving them feeling you’ll take advantage of them the first chance you get.

Harness the power of BATNA.

In negotiation, power comes from alternatives. One of the first things a skilled negotiator explores is what course she will take if the deal being worked on completely falls apart. If I can’t make this arrangement with this person work out at all, what will I do instead? Answering this question leads you to your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) and lays the foundation for increasing negotiating strength. And greater strength presents the potential for increased control, influence, and authority. The beauty of your BATNA is that it provides you a powerful floor to support your negotiation effort. You will never accept a deal unless it is better than your BATNA. It forms a minimum acceptable level for you.

What does BATNA look like in practice? Let’s take a look at a tale of two negotiations—one where the participant had a strong BATNA and one where the participant didn’t. Sam and Sara decide that they’re going to go to their boss in a week and demand a 10 percent raise. Sam uses the week to get his nerve up. But Sara, on the other hand, spends the seven days trying to get an offer from a competing employer. Sara succeeds in getting a job offer at a salary 4 percent above her current pay level. The following week, each of them goes in and requests the raise.

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