The key to being a good negotiator is to create a scenario where everyone wins.
I’ve never considered myself very good at negotiation. Debate, on the other hand, comes naturally — I can throw points and counterpoints at you like nobody’s business. But that’s because I tend to think in black and white terms… I’m good at proving the point I’m trying to make. This works to my advantage in debates, but it has the opposite effect when it comes to negotiating.
That’s because negotiation, despite being a skill we use every day, is largely misunderstood. Negotiating doesn’t mean figuring out how to get what you want out of any given scenario; as Danny Forest points out at Medium, it means figuring out how to create a solution where everyone wins:
I count Selling, Saying “yes” and Saying “no” as part of negotiating. How often can you create win-win situations? That’s what true negotiation is about. A negotiation where only one of two parties gets to win is not a negotiation, it’s a loss…
The next time you think about a negotiation situation, think win-win. What most don’t realize is that we negotiate almost on a daily basis. A lot of our interaction with other people are about interacting. Where to go for dinner? What to watch tonight? What mode of transportation to use?, etc. Once you realize that negotiation is a skill and it needs practice, you’ll start to find many scenarios around you that are good practice.
Despite being aware of the fact negotiation is something I do every day, I still know that I’m not very good at it. But it wasn’t until I read this description that I realized why. I’m not great at negotiation because I am 100 percent terrible at saying “no.”
I’m great at selling. In fact, I was once told by a CEO that I could “sell ice to Eskimos.” That’s not a humblebrag though, y’all — I’m saying that because when it comes to being able to effectively negotiate, relying on my ability to sell doesn’t work to my advantage. In fact, it’s a distinct disadvantage because I tend to abandon negotiations entirely if I fail to effectively “sell” whatever it is that’s on the table. Often, I give up the negotiation entirely and let the other person have their way… which is clearly not a negotiation.
Moreover, my “yes” is clearly not a yes. It’s a sulky white flag that’s usually accompanied by resentment, leaving both me and the other person feeling irritated by the outcome.
What I rarely do is say “no.” I don’t like to flat-out reject people or deny requests, but it doesn’t often occur to me to say no and then propose an alternate, one that might make everyone happy. I’m usually too focused on what I wanted to be able to back off enough to give a little.
It seems silly when it’s written out like that, but I know it’s true. I also know it’s human nature — we tend to be wholly invested in our own needs, and wants that we struggle to consider what someone else might need or want. That’s made even more difficult when your perspective doesn’t align with someone else’s. For example, the most difficult thing for me to comprehend and accept is when someone else has a completely different perspective and different values than me. It’s hard for me to grasp that what I think someone might want could, in fact, not be what they want at all.
And that’s where negotiation can be an aide to building virtue, because negotiation requires you to really listen to someone else in order to accept their words. But it also requires you to be assertive in your own needs and find a solution you’ll both be happy with. When you get right down to it, negotiation isn’t simply a tactic you can use to get what you want — it’s a way of showing charity, to both yourself and others.