The Real Art of Negotiation, Part III: Avoiding Rookie Mistakes

This is part three of a three-part series. For Part II, click here

While 80% of negotiating, in my opinion, is prep and strategy, avoiding mistakes can make your eventual outcome a lot easier. So, since nothing teaches like the failed experience of others (that would be me), here are my top five mistakes to avoid in any negotiation:

Mistake 1: Starting an unfair fight

When you are new to negotiating don’t start out going against a seasoned professional. If you are buying a car, for example, would you rather negotiate against a car lot salesperson who haggles every day and plays mind games, or a private party that is likely to have the same experience as you? The more even the skills of the two parties involved, the more likely both sides will get what they need.

Mistake 2: Talking yourself into a position of weakness

It is a cliché that most negotiations are won or lost in your mind, but sometimes clichés are true. Rookies look for every reason why they are in a weak negotiating position before they start the deal. This happens a lot with job applicants and with any newbie selling or buying practically any item. Every negotiation has pluses and minuses for each participant; be aware of your limitations, but don’t give into being the one who has the most to gain or lose. Your opponent wants something from you, too, and that puts you in a position of strength.

Mistake 3: Not seeing the big picture

People sometimes get so caught up in the dynamics of negotiating that they forget that the objective is to get a good deal. Sometimes the opening offer is a good offer, and if you focus on wanting to haggle down, or get more concessions, you jeopardize the deal. Getting 50% off something that is inflated 100% is not a good idea; paying full price for something that is underpriced is not a bad deal.

Mistake 4: Ignoring the flashing red light in your head

If your gut tells you that something is wrong, or you catch the other side lying, don’t explain away the feeling. Intuition is a human superpower. If the deal feels wrong, get out. If someone is trying to scam you on the little things, they are going to scam you on the bigger things, too. If it feels wrong, just walk away. If it feels dangerous, run away.

Mistake 5: Falling for a fake sense of urgency

Want to increase your chances of making a mistake? Rush yourself. Ever see someone defusing a bomb on tv? Even with the clock counting down, they don’t rush. They are methodical. When we hurry ourselves, or create a fake sense of urgency, we make mistakes. In fact, professional negotiators (and marketers) always create a (usually) fake imperative to get you to buy now, not tomorrow. Don’t give into it. Any decision, deal or offer that makes sense today will usually make even more sense tomorrow. Don’t procrastinate so long that you lose the deal by waiting weeks, but always — always — at least sleep overnight on an offer. If you’re negotiating with someone who insists that you act now or walk away, take their advice and walk away. Which explains why I rarely do auctions. Or buy a new car on my first visit to the lot. Or buy timeshare properties (well, actually there are hundreds of reasons why I don’t buy a timeshare).

And one bonus one because you’re special

And because six rules just sounds awkward.

Don’t play power games, and don’t fall for them either

Want to know a bad negotiator? Look for the little tricks they use to exert dominance. They shake your hand in a certain way, position their chair so they loom over you, or make you wait for them. Those aren’t negotiation strategies, they are affectations. For most people who use them, they just serve to make them feel like they have an edge, when they don’t. For others, it is a way for a seasoned grifter to find a mark (by finding a submissive target). But in any case, you will always get a better deal if you rely on preparation and true strategy more so than trying to win a staring contest. In the end, these tricks don’t really matter or affect the outcome.

Which doesn’t mean you should passively suffer these Jedi mind tricks for really stupid people. When someone tries the power grip on me, I usually comment on it and make light of it (“wow, the last time someone shook my hand like that they tried to sell me a bridge.”). It acknowledges both that you understand what they are doing and are not impressed by it. If a salesperson makes me wait excessively (think of the common car dealership trick of “let me talk with my manager”), I turn it around on them, and make them wait, while again calling it out. “Sorry, but you took so long to get an answer, I’m out of time today. I’ll come back tomorrow when I have more time.” You don’t have to be so blatant, of course, but even a small laugh or a roll of the eyes can get your point across. Just be certain to make them understand that if the goal is to play alpha dog, you can go somewhere else and will. 

You can negotiate well, and you will

Seriously, it is not that hard to negotiate a salary increase, or buy a used car, or even strike a great business deal. If you prepare, get a good strategy and avoid simple mistakes, you are likely to get to yes in a way that benefits both sides. Most people do badly at negotiating because they’d rather swallow a bad deal than arbitrate even a little. The thought of having to haggle is so terrifying to most, that they’d just rather pay more, make less or walk away, rather than put in the time and effort it takes to ensure success.

Don’t be that person. Besides, once you get good at it, you might even find out you enjoy the process of always getting what you want.

Want to know more? My latest book, Lessons from the Len Master, will be published soon by PostHill Publishing. It covers lessons I learned from my father on business, negotiations and leadership. Drop me an email or message and I’ll send you a free copy when it’s available. Or pre-order it now on Amazon by clicking here.