The Art Of Negotiation: How To Make Sure You Always Get What You Want

by Paul Hudson

When people think about the concept of negotiation, they most commonly relate it to business. Negotiation is used in business with every transaction of every day. Whether it is selling products or services to consumers, purchasing raw material in order to manufacture products for resale or purchasing the ready products for redistribution, there is always some sort of negotiation taking place.

Even when we as consumers go to the local store to pick up a pack of gum, we could negotiate the price, but we don’t because we believe the money requested is a fair tradeoff so we accept without argument (or we don’t even consider the option of negotiating because such negotiations are not common practice). Yet, business is not the only area in which negotiations take place. In fact, as human beings, we negotiate every time that we interact with another person.

We negotiate with our friends, our family, our managers, bosses, boyfriends and girlfriends, and even our children. Because of something called the ‘favor bank,’ it’s only human nature, existing anthropologically in different forms throughout different groups of people, to feel a need to reciprocate when someone gives you a ‘gift’ — even if that gift is solely your time and attention.

You may help your mother with something one day and never even consider her ‘owing’ you anything, nature dictates that she would be much more inclined to help you out were you ever to need help. Also, even were we not to ‘expect’ something in return, we would feel cheated were our request for reciprocation in a time of need be turned down. The level of reciprocation does not always need to be on the exact same level either — it really comes down to what the other person believes to be acceptable and also what they believe would be acceptable to you.

Say that you yourself were given some sort of gift; you would consider what you would be willing to give in return and what you believed that person would believe to be an acceptable reciprocation. These are all things that we consider — even if only briefly — every time that we ask something of someone else, regardless of whether or not there is a physical price tag associated with the transaction.

We understand that even a person’s time and attention are valuable and for this reason automatically, as long as we are considerate people, begin to think of ways to bring the reciprocity balance back to equilibrium. This is the reason so many relationships fail when they become one-sided. When one person gives much more than the other, it’s common for that person to begin to feel as if they are being used and believe themselves to be at a loss.

The main reason that I am approaching my argument from this angle is because once you can understand that even the closest and most intimate of interpersonal human interaction is in itself a sort of negotiation, then you cannot argue that every other interaction isn’t also a negotiation. This is important because once you learn the most fundamental part of negotiating you will be able to not only apply such tactics to your business, but also to your life at home. The only fundamental truth about the process of negotiation that you need to know is this: in order to negotiate successfully, you must find the Common Ground.

We’re going to do business together. I want something. And you want something. In order to find a deal that works for us both and leaves us both satisfied then we have to address what each of us wants. We must understand what we want most, prioritize between our wants, and understand what we would be willing to trade in return.

Once we are able to find an agreement that gives me what I want at a price I am willing to pay for it as well as giving you what you want at a price you are willing to pay for it, then and only then can we do business together successfully. If I am willing to pay up to $5,000 for your car and you are only willing to part with it for no less than $5,500, then guess what: we will never do business together. If neither of us is willing to shift our wants and/or acceptable tradeoffs, then there is no common ground for us to stand on.

It’s a very simple concept, yet most people don’t utilize it the way they should. People waste their time and energy dragging out negotiations when it is clear that doing business would leave the parties involved either unhappy or taken advantage of. When selling to a potential customer, you have to set a price that the consumer would deem acceptable in return for the benefits of the product or services rendered.

Even when you are planning your weekend with your girlfriend you are likely to trade staying home to watch "The Notebook" on Saturday night for, let’s say, her going to watch a football game with you on Sunday. Most of the time common ground can be easily reached — but not always. Sometimes finding that ground can prove to be very difficult. However, if there is a common ground to be found then it can be found — you just have to lead the conversation in an efficient way.

Assuming that you already know what you want and what you are willing to trade for it, find out what the other person wants and is willing to pay as tradeoff. Ask questions. Depending on whom you are negotiating with, you may need to do quite a bit of digging before the other is willing to let it be known what terms they are willing to agree upon.

This is especially true during business negotiations when each party is doing their best to get the most out of the deal — and during negotiations with difficult lovers. If you want to get the upper hand, then get to the bottom of what the other is minimally willing to accept and the most that they are willing to give you in return. This is where the art of negotiation really takes place. It’s not before understanding the location of the common ground; it’s outwitting the other once you know exactly where it is the other stands and how you can position yourself within those grounds in order to get as much as you can for as little as possible.

I’d like to think that lovers would be less concerned about getting the biggest bang for their buck than making sure that the ground is somewhat level — possibly even skewed in the other’s direction. But the same principles stand in no matter what negotiation you may find yourself. Negotiation outside of business is a form of manipulation.

You may not be completely manipulating the actions of the other, but you are directing the other towards their final decision. The best part is, as long as you stay within the bounds of the common ground then you really aren’t hurting the other person, simply making yourself a little happier. As long as the deal you make is on common grounds then by definition both parties must be content with the outcome of the negotiation. Find the common ground and the boundaries surrounding it and you will always come out on top.

Top photo credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images