27 September 2023

The art of the deal: How to become a better negotiator

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Paul Petrone* says that only by quelling the negative can you negotiate effectively and get the deal you want done.

Photo: Cytonn Photography

For 24 years, Chris Voss worked as a hostage negotiator with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in places like New York City, the Gaza Strip and Iraq.

There, he led some seriously intense negotiations, where lives were literally on the line.

His biggest lesson from that time: the negative weighs far heavier on people’s minds than the positive.

And so only by quelling the negative can you negotiate effectively and get the deal you want done.

“People are so much more driven by avoiding negative things and avoiding loss,” Voss said in the LinkedIn Learning course, Negotiating: A Toolkit for Advancing Your Interests.

“If I can get the reasons you won’t make a deal out of the way, you’re probably going to make the deal.”

Good news?

Voss listed some specific techniques you can use to defuse the concerns of your counterpart.

And this doesn’t just work for negotiating hostages; the same principles apply to everything from negotiating a higher salary to convincing your spouse to go on the vacation you want.

Voss said, in negotiating, you want to connect to the person you are negotiating with.

If they feel like you understand where they are coming from and what they want — and what they want to avoid — they are much more likely to deal with you.

How do you do that?

By utilising these four techniques:

  1. Acknowledge their negative statements, instead of denying them.

If someone says they don’t like something or something is bad, it’s our tendency to want to talk them out of it.

Voss said do the exact opposite — instead of denying their negative statements, acknowledge it, and then move past it.

So, for example, let’s say you are on a sales call and the client says the price is too high.

Our instinct is to disagree with them and say it isn’t too high.

Wrong move.

Instead, Voss said, agree with them.

Say the price is indeed high.

But then, communicate why it’s high and the value of the product.

Knowing this is incredibly valuable information, too.

Understanding what your counterpart is most scared of is key to closing the deal, as once you understand it you can structure a deal around it.

  1. If needed, use the phrase, “You’re not going to like this.”

Once you understand what your counterpart is afraid of, you can begin to structure the deal around it.

But, let’s say they think the price is high and you, again, have to talk about price or tell them that something will cost more.

When talking about those sensitive topics, try this.

Instead of saying, “This will cost 10 per cent more”, say, “You aren’t going to like this, but it’s going to cost 10 per cent more.”

“I’ll actually say to somebody ahead of time, look, this is going to sound really harsh and there’s a really good chance that when I get done saying what I’m going to say, you’re not going to like me at all and then I’ll say what I have to say and they’ll say, ‘wow, that wasn’t that bad’,” Voss said.

“So, I know I can take a very pre-emptive approach to negative thinking because I know what a barrier it is to decision-making in business.”

  1. Label their negative emotions.

Remember — negative emotions are really what kill deals.

So, you want to temper those negative emotions as much as possible.

One of the best ways to do that is to label negative emotions when you hear them.

For example, say you ask your boss to work from home on Fridays and she seems hesitant to say yes.

Label it; tell her, “it seems like you are hesitant about saying yes, I’d love to learn more.”

This simple practice will actually lessen her hesitation and get her thinking, which will help you close the deal.

“Science is showing us now that if we label a negative, it diminishes it,” Voss said.

  1. Empathise by listening to their concerns and repeating them back to them.

This is the most important technique.

Empathise with your counterpart as much as possible, by listening to their concerns and describing them back to them, to demonstrate you understand.

That greatly diminishes their negative emotions — and lays the groundwork for actually getting a deal done.

While you can see this being used in many situations, Voss gave a great example of using this technique to get a refund on a plane ticket from a customer service rep.

In the call, rather than arguing for why he should get a refund on the ticket, he started by saying he understood the rep must get yelled at all the time, but he appreciated the woman taking the time to talk to him and being generous with her time.

The woman thanked him — and, ultimately, refunded the ticket.

Why? Because he empathised with her.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate

All of our lives can be made better through negotiation.

By negotiating effectively, we could get a higher salary, more interesting projects to work on, the ability to work from home one day a week, a better title; the list goes on and on.

Yet many of us don’t negotiate for any of these things.

Why? Because we have no practise in it, and therefore we think we will not succeed, so we don’t even try.

This post gives you the very basics of negotiating, but of course there’s far more to learn.

Here’s the bigger point — don’t be afraid to negotiate.

Many times, the reason we don’t get what we want isn’t because someone said no, but because we never asked in the first place.

Learn how to negotiate.

And use those skills to get what you deserve, instead of taking what you get.

* Paul Petrone is Senior Editor at LinkedIn Learning.

This article first appeared at learning.linkedin.com.

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