by Steve Adubato, PhD

Every professional negotiates. In fact, even in our personal lives, we negotiate. We do it with our business partners, clients, but also with our significant others as well as our children. Negotiating is a part of life.

But too often, we negotiate without a clear communication game plan or strategy. We don’t consider the techniques and tools necessary to be effective in the negotiating game. With this in mind, consider some communication advice:

--Think relationships, not deals or transactions. Of course you want things to go your way in a particular negotiation. However, too often in the process, we get caught up in the moment and lose sight of the bigger picture. Effective negotiators are constantly working at building good relationships by adding value to the other party. How? By reaching out unexpectedly and offering a service or advice at no cost. By checking in and seeing how you can be helpful when a problem arises. By simply keeping in touch and building good will. This is all communication. Further, if you are looking to negotiate with a prospective client or customer, building a strong relationship well before the time comes to work out the details of a deal makes all the difference.

--Practice the actual negotiation. Very few people do this. I’m talking about role playing by sitting down with a colleague or friend and going through what the negotiation is likely to look and feel like. Anticipate the other person’s position and likely objections to your position and have the other person play these out. If the person you are negotiating with has an aggressive and combative communication style, make sure your role play partner does the same thing. The more you practice “game-like conditions” before the actual negotiation session, and then do a post-game analysis of where you were strong and where you need to improve, the better off you will be when the negotiation game is on for real.

--Focus on the “why”. Prepare three open-ended questions that start with “why”. If you know you are not going to be able to give the other party exactly what he wants (which is the norm), ask him WHY it is so important to him. And then LISTEN to the answer. He is likely to share some other very important things he is looking for that weren’t even on the negotiating table. This will allow you to help him achieve those goals, thereby making his initial request (or demand) less significant. The key is to constantly be thinking about other ways to help him achieve his bigger picture objectives.

--Negotiating is not personal, but is highly personal. The key here is to not allow the negotiation to get so personal that the other party frustrates you until you lose your cool. If this happens, the negotiation will often go badly. Therefore, no matter what is said or done in a negotiation, remain calm at all times. However, negotiations are highly personal in that you are dealing with another human being with very personal human emotions and reactions. It’s important that you get to know the other party on a personal level. Get to know her likes and dislikes, her personality quirks, something about her family, the history of her business and the role she’s played in it. Use this personal information to your advantage in the negotiation, but don’t let it get so personal that it works against you. It is a very delicate balance indeed, which is one of the many reasons the negotiation process is so complicated, but also could be potentially so rewarding.