The Negotiation Comfort Zone: How to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

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Negotiation is not a business tactic that everyone is going to be comfortable with. Reasons vary: It can be intimidating to tell a client or a vendor something that he doesn't want to hear. It can be a matter of cultural comfort zones — while some cultures encourage negotiations, others view the negotiation process as not much better than an argument. To be a successful business owner, however, it is crucial to be comfortable negotiating, both in casual and formal situations.

The situations where you will encounter negotiations can range from the every day, like making a sale to a new client, to the less common, like hiring a new employee. If you're not comfortable negotiating, each of these situations can be stressful and you stand a chance of winding up with terms that don't benefit you.

Getting Used to Negotiation

With negotiations, one of the simplest ways to become more comfortable with the process is practice. The more you negotiate, the less stressful you'll find coming to an agreement. But since, it may not be possible to find a negotiation every time you want to practice your skills, there are several ways to become more comfortable with negotiations before you ever start talking about terms.

Saideh Browne, the founder and owner of Impact Speakers Bureau, suggests doing some research to be more comfortable with business negotiations

A quick tip on making business negotiations easier is doing background research (due diligence) on the other side; it's really important to know what they want and what you're willing to give.

One of the biggest concerns for someone starting a negotiation is the ability to know when the other side is making a reasonable offer. While you may have an ideal end in mind, it's also crucial to know what the best deal is for the person or company your negotiating, and where there's a comfortable balance in the middle. Those details may not just be a matter of money: knowing what a client needs in terms of a delivery schedule or being able to offer a new employee a benefits package can tip the balance just as much as a lower amount of money can.

Knowing more about how the people you're planning to talk to negotiate can also be important. Negotiations don't have to be adversarial, but some people do choose tactics that can make a discussion of terms sound more like an argument. It can take some emotional preparation to handle those difficult discussions. To be comfortable in such situations, it is crucial to understand that these negotiations are a question of business, rather than a personal matter.

Take that understanding one step beyond and you'll be able to expand your comfort zone for negotiations. While you have a stake in the end result, those results can't be a personal matter, either. Browne also notes:

Everybody gets used in a deal — what matters is the degree to which you allow yourself to be used.

It can be a question of attitude, as well. While Browne's assessment that, in every negotiation, each side is going to have to give in to an extent is accurate, author Shel Horowitz offers a positive interpretation.

The best advice I have is to approach from a win-win attitude.

Improving Your Negotiation Skills

When you're comfortable with negotiation in general, you're ready to improve upon your existing negotiation skills. There are a variety of techniques that can work in different situations and certain skills, like the ability to notice when the person you're talking to is comfortable with a deal, can come in handy. First and foremost, however, is developing your own abilities to make sure you know what you need from a negotiation.

Determining the concessions you're willing to make ahead of time can help you be more comfortable negotiating, as well as improve your chances of walking away with your needs met. Horowitz suggests:

Be willing to make concessions that don't matter so much in order to maintain or expand what you really prize. I use the is approach a lot. One example: my eighth book, Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers, which will be out in a few weeks with a major New York publisher. I agented the book myself, and we negotiated several points on the contract. I actually got them to go up 20 percent on the advance, and I held out for one cause without which I wasn't willing to write the book. In return, I also made a number of concessions, such as paying for the cost of the index and writing my own back cover without charging them.

Horowitz walked in with a list of points he cared about when it came to his contract. He also knew exactly what he was willing to give in order to achieve his goals. Even a step as simple as sitting down ahead of time and making a list of your own needs and the points where you can afford to give can be a big boost to your negotiations. Identifying those items you don't care about can be a difficult skill to develop, however.

You want to walk away from every negotiation with the best possible deal. However, negotiation is the art of compromise: it's rare that you can get the perfect deal. Instead, since you need to be able to offer your vendor, client or negotiating partner concessions that will convince him to give you those most important factors, you have to be able to identify what's truly important. In a deal with deadlines, payment and a host of other details, picking out what will benefit you most is never simple — even improving the financial terms may not turn a deal into a big win for you.

Once you've become comfortable prioritizing your needs for a negotiation, you'll be better equipped to make a deal and you'll likely be more comfortable with the process, as well. Just knowing that you can afford to give in on some points can make conducting a negotiation much easier.

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