How to be a great negotiator

We all have to negotiate in life. Whether it’s with our boss, colleagues, clients or suppliers, being able to negotiate can benefit us throughout our career. But what makes a great negotiator? Our latest blog looks at the skills and tactics you need to get the best deal for you and your law firm.

Negotiating is part of everyday life. Whether you’re dealing with your boss, colleagues, employees, suppliers or clients, it pays to be a good negotiator. At the moment, there’s a lot of focus on the power of negotiation as the UK and EU try to agree their future relationship. Brexit is perhaps one of the most complex and politically-charged negotiations in our history, and all being played out on the world’s stage. Imagine the pressure on the negotiators involved. So what makes a good negotiator and how do you get a good deal for yourself or your law firm?

The best negotiators are those who can create a win-win outcome, where everyone believes they have got the best deal for themselves and the relationship between the parties remains strong. This requires a combination of skills and tactics:

What skills does a great negotiator need?

Problem-solving

Good negotiators are essentially good problem-solvers. They analyse the position of all parties, identify the key issues and the goals that they want to achieve. This analysis, together with a bit of creative thinking, puts them in a better place to find the compromises to make a deal.

Listening

One of the most important skills in negotiation is listening. By asking the right questions and listening to the answers, you’ll pick up on what is really important to the other side. You’ll get valuable insights into their key concerns, limitations and where they might have more flexibility than you thought. If you try to dominate the conversation and control it, you will put people off talking and you won’t get the same information.

Emotional control

Difficult conversations can get heated if there’s a lot at stake or people feel strongly about their point of view. But no one wants to do business with someone they find difficult or aggressive. The minute you lose your cool, you lose the ability to make rational decisions. So stay calm and don’t argue, try to understand instead.

 

What are the best tactics to use when negotiating?

Prepare

Preparation is key to negotiation. Research all parties, their concerns and likely approaches. Use company websites, LinkedIn and general press coverage. Are there any historical deals or precedents you should be aware of? Do industry regulations have any bearing on their negotiating position? Have you benchmarked your prices/offering against your competitors and are you clear about your points of difference?

Plan your strategy

There will be certain things that you have to get out of your negotiation, but there may be other compromises that would make the deal more acceptable to you. For example, staged payments for a long and challenging project. Understand in advance where you can be flexible and how flexible you can be. If you hold firm to your essential criteria but offer compromises in other areas, you’ll increase the chances that you can both meet in the middle.

Negotiate with the decision maker

There is no point trying to negotiate with someone who doesn’t have the authority to make concessions and agree to a deal. It’s a waste of time as they will just have to go back and forth with the person who can make those decisions, and you won’t have direct access to them.

Walk away if necessary

There is a compromise too far, where the risks are so high or the deal just isn’t worth it, and there is no point agreeing to it. You need to understand your cut off point and be prepared to walk away from a negotiation if it isn’t going to work for you. A bad deal could cost you more in the long term.

Get it in writing

Once you’ve got an agreement in principle, try and get it formalised in writing as soon as possible. Don’t let the process drag on as people may change their mind, or seek advice on the deal from third parties or, more likely, just not progress anything.

While the aim of a negotiation is to reach an agreement, it’s important to remember that you want to build a long-term relationship and maintain your professional reputation. Knowing what skills and tactics to use in a negotiation will not only help you get the deal you need today, it could be the start of a positive working arrangement that opens up new opportunities further down the line.

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