Cliff Oxford: Use These 16 Irrefutable Negotiation Tactics to Get What You Deserve

Cliff Oxford

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Successful negotiations now require creative marketing, sales and strategy; not the traditional “pound the table” tactics of the past. However, one thing remains constant in business: you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. So go get what you want.

As a follow up to my Forbes columnHow To Get More For Your Horses, here are 16 irrefutable remarks of entrepreneurial negotiation.

  1. Find out the other party’s agenda and embrace it. It is imperative to understand the point of view of the person you will be negotiating with by asking yourself these questions: What represents a successful result for her? What will constitute a win for her in a negotiation session? How can you make her look better? You don’t get to enjoy a victory lap in negotiations, until you have walked a mile in the other person’s shoes.
  2. Represent the market reality you are asking for. Sam Walton drove a Ford F150 truck because he wanted to look like a low cost seller. You have to be who you say you are 24×7 and not just during work hours. If you are selling Yachts, you better look like a Yachtsmen. Look like the money you are asking for.
  3. Know if time is working for or against you. The Viet Cong government knew Americans could not stomach watching the tragedies of war on television, so they knew they had to outlast negotiations. There, while our Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wanted to get right to how to end the war, the Viet Cong had long talks and negotiations over where everyone sat.
  4. Never split the difference. There are many ways to negotiate. “The reasonable person” theory says that a reasonable person should ask for money or conditions that are very close to what she actually wants, and that are close to what is fair. The problem is that those two things are often very different. If the market value for a service is $100,000, and the employee asks for $500,000, and the employer offers $95,000, then splitting the difference makes no sense. In a situation like that, if you simply split the difference, you would end up with a bizarrely unfair result. At that point, the employer has to assume that she is not dealing with a serious negotiator, because there is no validity to the $500,000 request.
  5. Sell your story, not your values. Whoever has the best story often wins. President Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer in life sold the story of a log splitter born in a cabin, is a good story if you are campaigning for President in 1860. He used his story to negotiate with his values in support of his presidential candidacy. What is your story? Write it down. Create a video. Document it. Think of it as the equivalent of a storybook negotiation that details facts and figures to support your market reality.
  6. It is not about what is fair. You cannot allow negotiations to turn on personal circumstance. Negotiations should be based on the market value of what you do or what you are buying. For example, some might perceive that NFL quarterbacks play football for nothing. But that is not the market reality. Professional football generates tremendous revenue and players take enormous risks. That is why the majority are paid millions to play the game.
  7. When you are going to lose, do not go for broke. Get creative instead. You never push a totally losing argument to the end. When you start to face a deadlock and you know that you cannot win, it is time to back off. That is when entrepreneurs push themselves to think of a new way to solve the problem. Instead of just speechifying, think of ways to create new value.
  8. Explain the past but sell the future. Your company’s past is memorialized in numbers, facts, and data comparables. Don’t try to resell that reality. Explain it so all parties understand it. For example, “Gross margins declined because we invested in IT infrastructure” is an explanation of the past. “We will now be able to scale and franchise 100 stores over the next year” is selling the future of “Entrepreneur Heaven.”
  9. Dealing with deadlock. Assume that in any negotiation process an impasse will occur. Turn on the high emotional I.Q. Disarm the other side and do not blow up like a “Brilliant Jerk” out of “Corporate Hell.” Step back for an hour or two. Sometimes it could involve shifting to a new setting and changing the context of the negotiation. I go to see a movie, or I read an entire newspaper.
  10. Make the first offer. The old thought on this is the other side goes first. No, go first and frame the debate and set the parameters of your market reality.
  11. Understand the people, not just their stances. Know who is on the other side of the table: tendencies, strong points, background.
  12. Disarm the opposition. Humor and sincerity are the best tonics to dilute animosity and opposition.
  13. When things turn personal, head back to strictly business. Do not deny that negotiations can get emotional and personal. Also, remind yourself that it is natural for someone to try to save money or get his or her way. Do not let that attitude be a startling revelation when you sit down to negotiate. Make it your job to keep things strictly business.
  14. The sad truth of sandbagging. We do not feel satisfied unless we have gone through a process that involves bargaining back and forth. All human beings like to feel some sense of achievement. They want to feel that they have won something. And they also like to justify the time they spent in the negotiating process. Fudging is when your first proposal needs to be higher than what you would ultimately take and sandbagging is when you understate what you can do.
  15. Negotiations are not a search-and-destroy mission. The one sure thing that I know about business is that, if you have your foot on someone else’s neck, at some point in the future, that person will have his foot on your neck. We want a win-win situation. If your side of the winnings is going to be big, do not clean the table and just leave. Take your winnings and give the appearance and action that you want the other side to earn and win her way back. Make it a positive loss and an earned opportunity ahead. Always see the future. You never want to treat any one negotiation as the last opportunity for a win-win result. You need to look at the whole picture and at the whole relationship (especially at your long-term interests) as opposed to obsessing over the current situation. Even when you win, you cannot afford to lose that perspective.
  16. The art of closing a deal is staying focused to the very end. There are critical points at the end when nearing terms that need to be negotiated and documented. That is when you should draw on your mental discipline. “Corporate Hell” concerns itself with what time the last flight leaves, or what it would be like to get home early to play golf with the boss. Do not get trapped. Remain focused until the very end. 

In “Entrepreneur Heaven,” we are not naïve enough to believe that everyone will negotiate in good faith. Lowball or “submarine offer” are real world negotiations. If someone throws you a low-ball offer, look at it first as an interested customer – not as an insult. If you are going to make a lowball offer, send it with a letter of explanation of why that you see it as the market reality. The note shows you respect the other side. On the other hand, a naked low offer is an insult to the other person and process.

If you follow my 16 irrefutable remarks on entrepreneurial negotiation, you can get what you deserve in business, have a lot of fun in helping the other side help you, and build bridges (not burn them) for the next round of negotiations.

Used with permission. Reach Cliff at [email protected]