Pallavi Pinakin elaborates on the dos and don’ts of negotiating with others

Negotiation is an integral part of life; it isn’t limited to financial matters. We negotiate on many issues with our families, friends and colleagues – for instance, to reach a delicately balanced arrangement with your spouse on the division of household tasks, gather support for a new initiative at work or convince the neighbourhood committee to invest in sprucing up the community park.

Which is why negotiating skills are important. And honing these skills can help you achieve outcomes that are aligned with your goals. So here are some recommendations that will help you become a strong negotiator.

DO YOUR RESEARCH Many people feel that successful negotiation is a ‘play it by ear’ process. While flexibility is important, doing your homework is indispensable.

So it isn’t surprising that the first step recommended by every expert out there is research and preparation – i.e. finding out all you can about the other party’s goals, interests and limitations. Without the right information, you’ll probably make a mistake and settle for a subpar outcome.

GO FOR WIN-WIN Jeff Weiss, an expert negotiator and author of the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Negotiating, explains that negotiation doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game.

Too often, people approach a discussion in a ‘my way or the highway’ frame of mind. They assume that for them to win, the other party has to lose. But that isn’t true and entering discussions with such a rigid mindset can cause talks to break down. Instead, venture outside the box and consider whether there’s a way in which you can both get what you want.

SEEK THE TRUTH You may need to go below the surface to figure out what people actually want rather than what they say they want.

For example, when negotiating a salary increment, both the employee and employer may reach stalemate on the figure, which can make it seem like money is the only thing that matters.

But in reality, there are other factors at play too – such as location, working hours, job responsibilities, career and training opportunities, perks like transport and meals etc. A good negotiator can use these factors to craft an imaginative solution that suits the candidate as well as the company.

DROP ANCHOR People are often reluctant to go first because they think it’ll tip their hand. However, the first offer also provides a starting point or anchor upon which the rest of the discussion is shaped – it’s a great opportunity to set the stage for the negotiation.

If you’re taking the first step, be aggressive but give yourself sufficient room to go back and forth, and make a few concessions until you reach the terms and conditions you desire. Don’t be rigid in your requirements because the other side will throw up their hands and walk away!

PAY ATTENTION If the talks involve multiple parties, you must pay close attention to sequencing. Ask yourself the following questions: ‘Who influences whom?’ ‘Whose support is critical to the deal?’ and ‘What would get them to agree?’

For example, speaking to the most important person at the beginning might not be the best course of action. Having allies could increase your chances of receiving a favourable response from them so secure those alliances first.

SET THE TONE Conventional wisdom advises negotiators not to put all their cards on the table. But in the effort to hold your cards close, you could come across as being reticent and secretive, which inhibits trust and jeopardises the discussion.

To create trust, which is crucial to a positive outcome, offer a nugget of truth early in the conversation – something significant about yourself or your organisation. Be forthcoming and honest. The other side is likely to mirror your actions and open up in return, thereby building confidence and faith between both parties. The end result of this is likely to be a win-win deal.

TAKE YOUR TIME If you’re making the final call, you might feel pressured into finalising an unfavourable deal. To avoid being cornered, ask for more time. You could say something along the lines of ‘I need to consult with a few people so I’ll get back to you tomorrow.’

Don’t buckle under pressure and say ‘yes’ simply to be able to leave the room – chances are you’ll end up agreeing to something you will later regret.

AIM TO BE FAIR For a majority of people, the most important aspect of a negotiation is to be treated fairly. In the end, they want to be able to justify and defend the outcome. This makes fairness crucial to achieving a result that works well for both parties especially in long-term relationships.

Getting your way without giving an inch might feel great in the moment but it’ll create resentment in the other party and take a toll on future interactions.