When it Comes to Negotiation, Here's the Scoop

The basics of negotiation for anything.

Desktop showing two people holding pens and reviewing papers.

In some societies, negotiating is as natural as breathing. You walk to the market and haggle over the price of an item with a vendor. The price drops a bit, and both parties are happy.

This arrangement is virtually as old as humanity. Before capitalism, or even before the invention of money, we lived in a bartering society. If you had a spare pig and needed some animal hides, your neighbor may have been just the person for a trade.

These days, in countries such as the United States, our bartering and negotiating muscles have atrophied. Unless we're at an antique shop, a flea market or a car dealership, many of us hardly negotiate at all.

Which is a shame. If you're not flexing your negotiating skills in critical situations, you're leaving plenty of things on the table, including money, career development, and opportunity.

So what do we need to know before entering a negotiation? No matter whether you're seeking a better deal on a car, a house or your salary, there are some unifying principles behind successful negotiation. Let's review a few of them.

The Power of BATNA

In the world of high-stakes negotiation, there's an important concept called "Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement," or BATNA. In essence, BATNA is the course of action you'll take if the negotiation is not successful. In other words, a successful negotiation must improve, in some regard, on your BATNA.

Developing a BATNA before entering any negotiation allows you to establish a baseline under which your position won't drop, and some alternative possibilities should negotiations conclude unsuccessfully.

Should I Propose The Initial Offer?

Yes. Throwing out the first number in any negotiation may provide an advantage because it establishes the first reference point. Research has shown that even expert negotiators are unconsciously affected by this maneuver. Your offer should be aggressive, but not so aggressive that it comes across as unserious.

Always Look For A Better Offer

Even if you get the offer you're looking for immediately, don't accept. Instead, ask for additional concessions. You may get them -- and if your negotiating partner may become more aggressive in the future if the first offer was accepted.

Avoid Ultimatums

It's better to keep the negotiation open-ended. A poorly articulated ultimatum has the potential to shut down negotiations immediately. It may also engender hard feelings in the future. In general, people don't like to be backed into a corner or have their options limited.

Keep It Genial, Not Adversarial

If you treat your negotiating partner well, or establish a bond, she may be inclined to offer you a better deal. A needlessly adversarial pose offers absolutely no benefit.

The Takeaway

You don't have to be a master of the form to draw significant benefits from the practice of negotiation. By brushing up on your basic bargaining tactics, you can secure a better deal the next time you're looking for a car, a home or a job.