A Guide to the Fine Art of Negotiation

The Modern Survival Guide #108

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  • Define your minimum, acceptable, and ideal results
  • Research the other side
  • Set an anchor point
  • Ask for what you want
  • Be calm
  • Be patient
  • Know when to walk away

Zero-Sum vs. Win/Win Negotiations

It’s an often-overlooked fact that there are (at least) two types of negotiation.

Define Your Minimum, Acceptable, and Ideal Results

Now we get into proper negotiating tactics. Before you sit down across from the other person, you need to know the following points:

  • What is an acceptable (good enough) offer that you could happily accept?
  • What is the ideal (best possible) offer that you would grab in a heartbeat if it hit the table?

Research the Other Side

Do this before the negotiation. To continue the example, if you think you might be in a dinner negotiation with your spouse, maybe sound them out for their options earlier in the day. If they happen to say “I could eat literally anything other than steak tonight,” your steakhouse dream probably just died. Time to move on.

Set an Anchor Point

In negotiations, an “anchor” is an offer that both sides use as a point of reference. It’s called an anchor because it tends to set the scope and tone of the negotiation. Sometimes you can “re-anchor” the discussion with a new offer, but this can be very hard. For example, if you offer a high price in your car negotiation, then try to bargain for a lower price, the dealer will likely fixate on your high price because they think that’s what you can afford.

Ask for What Your Want

When in doubt, ask for what you want and use that as your anchor point. If you want leather seats in car, ask for leather seats. If you want to eat at home, ask to eat at home. Never, ever, engage in negotiations without clearly stating your preferred outcome; the other side has to know what you want before you can get it.

Be Calm

This is just a good general tip. Negotiations can be adversarial, or otherwise emotionally draining. Try to stay calm. It’s an interesting psychological point that in any argument, the person who stays calm is more likely to “win.” Negotiations share a lot of ground with arguments, so stay calm. Remember, when emotions turn on, the logical brain turns off. You want to stay cool and collected, and keep your priorities firmly in mind. You want to avoid anger, shrug off pressure, and generally act like you haven’t got a care in the world.

Be Patient

A big part of winning a negotiation is being able to outlast the other person. This is because most people involved in negotiations are in some sort of time crunch, and the party who can hold out until the other side starts running out of time has a better chance of getting what they want.

Know When to Walk Away

Sometimes you just need to walk away, for one of two reasons: either you need to make the point that you have other options, or you need to go to another option.

Art Takes Practice

If you’ve read this far, you’ll have noticed that almost every specific instruction in this guide was glossed over in the “art” part of each section. I didn’t name this article “The Fine Instructions of Negotiation,” or “The Fine Checklist of Negotiation,” and that’s because you can’t teach art. You can only guide it.

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.

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