Negotiating effectively

Sylvia Porter

September 18, 1990|By Sylvia Porter | Sylvia Porter,1989 Los Angeles Times Syndicate

One of the greater social and financial skills you can posses is one that is often ignored by most people -- one that may even carry a bit of a stigma. It is the ability to negotiate effectively.

Negotiating is something you can and should do every day. But few people can set aside their egos and bargain without taking it personally. Taking it personally almost assures failure.

Many people are embarrassed to negotiate. Two friends were recently in a camera store. One was looking at a used lens. The price was $150.

"Too much," he said.

"Offer $75," said the other. The offer was made and rejected.

"I really want the lens," the first fellow whispered to the second.

"Never mind. Follow me out of here. Just follow me."

They were almost to the door when the salesman called to them: "Ninety dollars."

The second friend now took over the negotiation. "Tax included?"

The sale was made. The salesman did his best to make my friends feel as though they were virtually stealing the lens, which, of course, they weren't. But by sending them home believing they had made an excellent deal, he assured that they would be back to make other purchases.

I have talked with a few professors who specialize in this subject and they, too, agree that the United States is nearly illiterate when it comes to bargaining. That's why we often hire others (lawyers, real estate agents and the like) to do our bidding for many of life's important transactions.

In its simplest form, negotiation consists of deciding what you want, deciding what you are willing to give up and arriving at an arrangement favorable to all.

How do you go about negotiating? The experts suggest some ground rules:

*Know your costs. Whether you are negotiating a raise, the sale of a house or something else, be clear what the item cost you, what you will lose if the negotiation isn't successful, what you have invested.

*Know other prices. If you are a buyer, know what it would cost to get the same goods or services elsewhere. Remember that an inefficient supplier may have costs that are higher than the prices charged elsewhere. If that turns out to be the case, get the goods or services elsewhere.

*Don't show all the cards in your hand. Perhaps delivery time o an item is of crucial importance. Don't announce that at the beginning of negotiations, because it will be used as a lever to get a higher price. Conversely, if you are the supplier you may be able to use special considerations as bargaining points in getting the price you want.

This holds true as well in negotiating for, let us say, a raise. Your employer may not be able to give you the money you seek. But that employer may be willing to offer concessions in other areas: more time off or more flexible working hours.

*Listen carefully. At labor negotiations the phrase "we hear you" is often employed. This means "I understand what you are NOT saying." Alertness during negotiations can help you find ways to bolster your own position and make counter offers more attractive.

*Don't approach the negotiation with an adversary attitude. Consider it instead to be a process in which you and the person with whom you are negotiating are looking for a solution that will let both of you emerge feeling like winners.

*When making preliminary offers, exaggerate your position. State a price, if selling, that gives you room to bargain. If buying, offer substantially less than you are actually willing to pay. This gives you flexibility.

*Almost anything can be negotiated. When dealing with a store a bank, an employee or an employer, always ask yourself what the other person's real goal is. Once you have figured that out, you can bargain for terms more favorable to yourself.

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