If you’re someone who frequently finds themselves putting out fires, de-escalating fights, or doing damage control, it might be a good idea to keep up-to-date with some good negotiation tactics. These tactics are great if you have a high-level business job, too.
In truth, negotiation comes into practice in many different aspects of our lives, from haggling a lower price at the flea market to negotiating a better price on a real estate investment. While negotiation tactics and strategies can vary widely based on what you’re using them for, many of the most basic tactics are the same across the board.
In this guide, we’ll teach you all about these tactics and tenets. By the end, you’ll know all you need to give your negotiation skills a real-life boost. First, though, we’ll be teaching you a little bit about the different types of negotiation tactics and how you might respond to them.
Types of Negotiation Tactics
While many different negotiation tactics exist out there today, they all typically fall into (or between) one of three categories. These three categories are:
- Collaboration tactics
- Neutral tactics
- Manipulation tactics
As the names imply, collaboration tactics are when both parties receive equal (or even unequal, but agreed-upon) benefits from a negotiation. Manipulation tactics are where one party takes advantage of another and receives much more benefit than the other. Neutral tactics can be used for either purpose, depending on the situation.
You’ve definitely heard the word collaboration before. For negotiation, collaboration means adopting a “both of us win” mentality. While this seems like a no-brainer, it’s less conventional (and harder to achieve) than you might think.
Why is it hard to achieve a mutually-beneficial result in a negotiation? Some reasons might be:
- One side believes they deserve more than the other
- One side is being too inflexible
- One side is too lax with their demands, and the end result is not mutually beneficial
There are many reasons why a deal that was meant to be collaborative might not end up being that way, too. While it isn’t really legal to trick people with the use of a binding agreement, it’s something that does happen on occasion, especially with shady deals where the tricked party can’t report on the agreement because of its nature.
Another way that a mutually-beneficial deal might be used to trick someone is in the dreaded “fine print.” when you sign a document or contract, it turns into a legally-binding agreement, and anything you agreed to in the text becomes something you must follow going forward. If the other party hides something in the contract and you still sign it unwittingly, you could end up receiving much less than you expected from a deal.
However, when both sides trust each other and aren’t greedy with what they receive, collaboration can be a great source of good and prosperity, too. When two people go in together on a business, and both reap the financial rewards, that’s collaboration, for example. However, if one person tries to negotiate a higher volume of the profit because they believe they’re doing more work (and the other party does not agree), this is the darker side of collaboration: manipulation.
In negotiation, manipulation is when you actively try to short another party out of what they stand to gain. Perhaps you feel like you deserve more than them, or maybe you are just looking out for yourself. Perhaps they just seem like someone who would be easy to take advantage of. Regardless of the reasons why, the important thing here is that these tactics are called manipulation tactics.
Some tactics can be used for manipulative or collaborative purposes. For example, imposing a deadline on a party by which they must make their decision (or perform some other action) is an action that can either collaborate or manipulate.
If you’re trying to put pressure on the opposite party and knock them off-guard, this is manipulation. However, if you have real-time constraints to be aware of and you’re working around those for the betterment of both parties, that’s collaboration.
Listen Instead of Talking
Many people operate under the mistaken allusion that they need to smooth-talk their way through a deal to be a good negotiator. In most cases, this is the opposite of the truth. Many times, the person you’re negotiating with can tell you more about the negotiation through their body language than they ever will through their words.
Body language is always crucial, especially if either party involved is nervous. Often, green negotiators will be tempted to go into a deal with a speech already prepared, ready to lay out point after point for their opponent. While preparation isn’t necessarily bad, rigidity is. As a negotiator, you always need to be open to flexibility, deviation and coming up with entirely new plans.
Even more so than the other two, though, keep in mind that your opponent’s body language will tell you what they want, and getting both what you want and what they want is the goal of any negotiation. By watching their body language closely, you can determine what the other party is looking for in reasonably short order.
Listen to what the other side wants. As you talk together, watch their body language, track how they react to your suggestions and prompts, and steer the conversation as needed from there. If both parties are willing and motivated to make a deal, there will be common ground somewhere between your optimum result and their optimum result. The key is finding it.
It might feel like this tip runs counter to the one above, but believe us, it’s not! For the purposes of this guide, sharing means sharing information. We don’t mean sharing the valuable information that you may need to negotiate, either. Surprisingly, studies seem to show that sharing any information with the other person or entity you’re negotiating with increases trust.
Trust is the key to negotiating with someone else. If they trust you and like you, they’re more likely to lower their demands for you more than they would for a stranger. The key is getting things to feel like you aren’t strangers before your time runs out.
How much time you have to negotiate and share with the other party varies depending on what kind of deal you’re making. This can make it difficult to set the proper tone with faster, more informal arrangements. You want to avoid over-sharing, too, which can be an easy trap to fall into when you feel like your available bargaining time is limited.
To begin with, we recommend being friendly and acting like yourself. Try a few small negotiations this way. Go to a market where haggling is encouraged and see how far you can get. The people here are experienced negotiators, and there’s very little at stake for a small market exchange. It’s a great way to practice for more substantial future negotiations. Just keep in mind that market hagglers are very experienced negotiators!
Overshooting is a common negotiation tactic that many experts swear by. With this tactic, people first make a significant demand that they know the other party is unlikely to accept. Doing this makes subsequent requests, no matter how large or small, seem much more acceptable. Low-balling is a similar tactic that negotiators on the other end are wont to use.
There is a lot of psychology that goes on behind both overshooting and low-balling. However, the drawback of these approaches is that they can often seem rude. If a customer offers to pay something that’s too far below the actual value of the item, the seller may take it as an insult, implying that their goods are low-quality. This is an excellent way to make experienced negotiators mad rather than helping you.
In the same way, if a vendor sets their prices too high, expecting that their customers will try to haggle, this opens the way for other vendors to set lower prices. By doing this, they may be unknowingly or unintentionally driving their customers to other shops with their artificially-inflated prices.
That being said, though, if you can do either of these tactics correctly, you stand to gain a lot from it. Just keep in mind that different levels of overshooting and undershooting are appropriate for different situations, and feeling out what’s right will be the most critical step in the process.
Every good negotiator goes into a deal with as much prior knowledge as they possibly can. If you’ve seen any real estate “flipping” shows, you know that the buyers always go in knowing several things:
- How much money they have to spare for a purchase
- How much money they can spend before they can no longer make a profit
- What price is fair for a house in a particular area
Any negotiator should go into their purchases with this type of prior knowledge, if possible. While we know it’s not always that easy to gather all of the knowledge you need to make a good deal, especially if you’re forced to go in blind or unprepared, it’s good to gather that knowledge whenever you can. When you do, you will inevitably come out in a better position for it.
Prep work applies to all types of negotiations. To be fair, just about anyone who’s actively handing money to others, especially in large sums, should be sure to do their prep work. Consider people like:
- Consumers buying and selling products
- Investors deciding whether they should invest in a company or product
- Ordinary people debating which stocks to invest their money in
- A business looking to negotiate a merger with or acquisition of another business
The ugly truth is that it can be scarily easy for sellers or consumers to hide their true intentions about a product or service. They can mislead you into thinking something’s worth more than it truly is, especially if you didn’t do your research beforehand! If you did do your research, however, you can swiftly shut them down with facts if they try to pull the wool over your eyes during your negotiations.
Timing can be used to your advantage in many different things. In cooking, for example, taking a cookie or a steak out at its prime doneness will result in the best-tasting product. Similarly, you can act on the market in specific ways to milk more benefits to you out of it.
Consider the changing of the seasons, for example. If you’re interested in buying a second-hand lawnmower, you could buy it during the middle of the summer when mowers are scarce. The same goes for boats or other watersports machines like jet skis. Prices for these items will be highest when they’re in-demand, such as during a particularly hot summer.
On the other hand, if you decide to purchase a second-hand lawnmower just as winter is ending, you might have a much better time. Springtime is when people are buying new lawnmowers for the year and selling off their old ones, so you might find yourself wading through a surplus. This surplus will drive the prices of all of the second-hand mowers down.
This same theory applies to negotiation. Let’s shift our perspective to a more business-related one. If, theoretically, we’re looking to buy out a lawnmower business, that business will likely be pulling in much less revenue during the winter. As a result, they might be willing to sell rights to the company for far less than they would in the summertime when business is booming.
However, manipulating the timing of a deal carries some risk with it. This time, let’s consider an exotic soap company that caters to tourists. During the height of the tourist season, the shop might be able to pull in significant sales. However, towards the end of the tourist season, the seller might be more motivated to sell off excess inventory, and they might lower their own prices as a result.
Because of these lowered prices and dwindling inventories, you might not have access to a specific product that the soapmaker once carried. However, you could get other products are a much lower price than usual – assuming that the soapmaker hasn’t run out of the product and closed up shop for the year entirely yet.
Sometimes, it’s easy to lose track of the important things over the course of an extensive negotiation – especially if you stand to gain a lot from it. Even the best of us become blinded by greed and look only at the money we might make from a deal. While making money is an integral part of many negotiations, it isn’t always the most important thing.
As such, keeping a list of your highest priorities handy is very helpful (and very important) when negotiating with others. Not only does keeping your priorities handy make you more flexible as opposed to less, but it keeps you from being lost in negotiations about money, too.
What might some non-money priorities be? Some examples might be the following:
- More employees from a merger company
- Acquiring a certain percentage of a company’s stocks
- Buying a more massive campus or area for growth
Of course, the top examples all apply to a large company, but you can use them for smaller-scale things, as well. Imagine that you’re a student trying to renegotiate an unsatisfying grade on a school project. Your priorities might look something like:
- Have my final grade point reach a 4.0
- Have the teacher understand what I was trying to convey with my project
Your preferences should always be ranked. For example, in the scenario above, you might be more concerned that your teacher understands what you were trying to convey with your project rather than changing your grade as a whole. On the other hand, another student might have the opposite view, and this is perfectly okay – just make sure you have an idea of which student you are before going into the negotiation.
“Take It or Leave It”
You’ve probably heard the phrase “take it or leave it” sometime during your lifetime, whether this was negotiating with a stubborn parent when you were young or with an equal later on in life. Sometimes, people might employ the “take it or leave it” tactic if they’re feeling frustrated by lack of progress in your negotiations.
However, people can also employ this tactic right off the back to pressure you into a hasty decision. This is a heavy-handed manipulation tactic, but one that you can counter. When someone says “take it or leave it,” they will often still be open to negotiation, even if they’re trying to make it seem like they are not.
The one thing to be aware of with this tactic is pushing your opponent too far. If both sides have been stressed by seemingly endless negotiations and counter-offers, you should be aware that the other side really might be at a take-it-or-leave-it point in their talks. At this point, it would be best not to push them further; a break from negotiations is often best in these situations if you can afford one.
On the other hand, if their negotiation tactic is not to negotiate right off the bat, you most likely still have room to turn things around. Try to continue making counter-offers, and see how far you can get the opponent to budge. If you feel like this is a ploy, feel free to hold off on making any deals until they become more agreeable.
Sometimes, trading something for a greater end reward is a necessary part of the negotiation process. After all, if both parties hope to see an equal benefit, both parties must make similar sacrifices, too. Sometimes, for both sides to be fair, one team must sacrifice something first.
Offering a trade-off is a great way to guide negotiations if you haven’t been making progress. In many (but not all) situations, offering to take a hit to smooth negotiations along is a way to garner respect from your opponents. It may be enough to prompt them to do the same, as well.
The secret to offering a trade-off during a negotiation is to start with an open-ended question. For example, if you’re dealing with a contracting company to construct a building, you could offer something like:
- What if we pledge to hire you for our next project?
- What if we increase the budget for the project?
- What if we increase the timeline by two weeks?
While you might be tempted to mention what you would want in return right away, resist the urge to do so immediately. The people you’re negotiating with might make their own offer that trumps the ones you have in mind. If they don’t, however, make sure they know that your concession is meant to be balanced by one of their own. You might continue the above thoughts by adding:
- Would you be able to do this project at a discount?
- Would you be able to shorten the deadline for this project?
- Would you be able to operate on a tighter budget for this project?
Keep Your Emotions in Check
One of the biggest mistakes that novice negotiators make is bringing their emotions (or their egos) into the negotiation “room.” Negotiations are fraught with emotional, manipulative, thought-provoking, and high-stakes dealmaking. Bringing your feelings in with you is a great way to ruin a negotiation session.
Negotiations operate under the assumption that participants will check their emotions at the door. While some negotiators still refuse to leave their egos at the door, this can quickly work to your benefit. Only amateur or cocky negotiators refuse to do this.
Unfortunately, and especially in big business, checking egos at the door isn’t as common as checking emotions at the door. This is part of the reason why checking your feelings at the door is such an important step to take. It’s very easy to become inflamed and out of your mind when someone else refuses to show you the same courtesy.
However, this in and of itself can be its own manipulation tactic. Tormenting the enemy is a great way to sabotage or end a manipulation, but it can be a great way to make a lifelong enemy out of them, too. In big business, making an enemy of someone larger than you is an incredibly bad idea.
If you refuse to firmly check your emotions at the door, especially as someone inexperienced with negotiation, you could end up sabotaging yourself, however. The people you’re negotiating with will frustrate you, draw your patience, propose outrageous solutions, and more on the way to finding the proper resolution. If you’re not prepared to weather that, then you shouldn’t be negotiating at all.
Frame Your Argument
Negotiations have hundreds of different facets that can affect the way they play out. The way the talk itself is “framed” is one of these facets, and it’s a crucial one.
When we say “framing,” we mean the angle you’re using to approach your problem. Let’s say you’re a real estate “flipper” like we discussed a bit earlier. You need a house rewired before it can be sold to the next buyer. However, you need it done extremely quickly.
Instead of saying that you need a rush job done on some electrical rewiring, consider framing it from a bidding perspective instead. By offering a higher price for this electrical job, you can attract more contractors and make a more persuasive argument. Of course, you would only hire someone on the condition that they could complete the job in the time you needed.
You can do the same thing in reverse, too. Let’s say you need that same house to be re-plumbed, but you don’t have a strict timeframe to get it done in. Instead of saying you’re looking to have some plumbing done on the cheap, you could say you need some plumbing done, and your time window is exceptionally flexible. By doing this, you can also attract more contractors and potentially pick one with a much lower bid.
Make the First Offer
This little bit of advice might seem utterly counterintuitive to some of the other tips we’ve mentioned so far. For example, holding your hand close to your chest and waiting for the enemy to make an offer is frequently a good way to get a better deal than you would have suggested yourself.
However, making the first offer is a bit different. In negotiations, people tend to work around the first offer, regardless of where the numbers themselves were set. As such, if you make the first move when it comes to an offer, you can “set the stage,” so to speak.
Of course, going too crazy with your first offer can taint the feel of all subsequent negotiations – this isn’t a good idea at all. Don’t be afraid to push the limits a little bit, but going too wild can offend your opponent to the point of breaking down communications. However, don’t let that stop you from pushing the envelope a little; since you’re making the first offer, this is your right.