I was recently talking with a client, who told me that his approach to negotiating is very much like using a hammer: “If they don’t do what I want, I smash them!” “Hammers are great when you have nails,” I told him. “However, what happens when you have a leaking pipe?” That’s the problem with most one-dimensional negotiators — they’re great in the situation for which their single tool was built, but they fall apart when the situation no longer fits their tool. So, what are some simple ways to expand your toolbox?
Empty your cup.
If you really want to expand your negotiator’s toolbox, then you must become a student of negotiating. That means you’ll need to let go of the notion that you know everything. Even if you know a lot, there’s still more to learn, and you must be open to learning. There’s an old Zen parable about “emptying your cup” that illustrates this well. The moral of the story is that, in order to learn something new, you must make room for it. If your tea cup is full, nothing new can get in.
Keep a negotiation journal. Throughout your negotiations, make note of the techniques and strategies that worked for you or failed you. Think about why they did or didn’t work. Seek to understand the circumstances that created the outcome. This is important because no two negotiations are alike. Recognizing the situations in which you find yourself will help you to identify the tools you need to use.
Practice makes perfect.
One of the most valuable things we do for our clients is take them through mock negotiations. These scenarios allow them to practice new techniques and test out new strategies in a safe environment. We give them feedback, coach them through adjustments, and have them continue to practice in a variety of scenarios until they feel comfortable. For critical negotiations, practicing in this manner helps the dealmakers stay calm, feel confident, and maintain more control over the negotiation no matter what’s thrown at them.
Expand your knowledge.
It’s not enough simply to do a lot of negotiating — you need to train and to develop your skills. Take a class and work with experts. I know that sounds a little self-serving coming from me, but there’s a reason why a lot of our business is about training others to do what we do for our clients — it’s valuable! Learning is an endless endeavor and joining a class can help to accelerate your learning curve.
In the end, it all comes down to your desire to get better. You have to want to be better in order to put more tools in your toolbox. If you don’t put in the work, then you really won’t improve and all you’ll be left with is your hammer. However, once you have that desire, developing your negotiating skills becomes a fun and rewarding journey.