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Six tips to master the art of negotiation

By Margot Smith FIML

Negotiation seems daunting, but most of us have been at it from a very early age. We ‘negotiate’ corners around a table when we’re first walking, working out how much latitude we have. We negotiate with our parents and siblings, trying to get what we want to meet our needs (with little or no regard to theirs in the early stages). We have wins and losses in negotiating as we grow up. We learn what works and what doesn’t – but then we come to understand that negotiating is a two-way street and that sometimes you need to lose the battle to win the war.

Another vital point about negotiation is that it is a skill. Rose-Marie Nathan CMgr FIML who is the Chief Commercial Officer at HerCareer, as well as Partner, Senior Sourcing Specialist at Customise Talent Group says, “Negotiation skills can be developed – and don’t assume someone younger or less experienced hasn’t mastered the skill, or that someone more experienced has. ”

So, how do you master negotiation? What are some dos and don’ts? And has the game changed now that many of us are working remotely and negotiating virtually?

Remember rule number one

The first rule of negotiating is to never go first. If you can, try and get the other person to put their number or terms on the table first. This gives you a starting point and you get a sense of how much wiggle room there is. A good example of this is going for a new job and asking for a particular salary. You might be thinking $80,000 and they might be thinking $120,000 – if you offer up $100,000 first then you’ve lost a sizeable difference. So if you can, insist that they go first. Failing that – add some buffer.

Keep your options open

The second thing that I rely on – that can really be a game-changer, is that options are your best friend in finding a solution that suits you both.

Nathan also points out that you should always try to establish what boundaries might exist for the other party. “Every new negotiation, and person you negotiate with, will have different drivers and objectives. There are always boundaries, these can be financial, policy-driven, cultural, value-based or deeply personal,” she explains.

Identifying these drivers, objectives and boundaries as early as possible will help you plan and consider acceptable alternatives.

Let’s take career development as an example – you might want a pay rise, but in this environment that might be unlikely for many of us. What are the other options? Maybe a title change instead, on-the-job training of a new skill, or else mentoring with a senior leader in the business may serve your needs better right now. These are all ways to add value to the organisation and to get you closer to your career aspirations.

Think outside the box: be creative

Let’s say you are looking for something a little different though, or you’ve been offered a more senior role at the same pay. You could ask for a sign-on bonus, or one day off a fortnight, or some budget for you to complete the Chartered Manager designation with IML ANZ, or executive coaching. What you are negotiating could be anything though – like negotiating a rate increase for a piece of work. Try to think outside the box and come at it from a few angles to get closer to what you want. Go into the negotiation knowing the minimum terms you will agree to but have those other variables up your sleeve if you don’t get exactly what you want.

Negotiate in good faith

Just over a decade ago I used to do a lot of work with a particular firm. They were extremely professional in so many ways, but the more deals we did the more I noticed that they would leave their offer or counter-offer until the last minute. The type of work we were doing was time-sensitive, so there was always a deadline that was looming that would force our hands to take the deals under circumstances that we wouldn’t ordinarily do. Then one day, I twigged that this was not just poor organisation or planning, this was a negotiation tactic. I was walking to a meeting with my boss as the time and I suggested we call their bluff and if the product was delayed, then I was prepared to take a hit on the deadline to get the costs and negotiations back on track. Personally, I think to wait until the last minute is not negotiating in good faith. I would encourage you to think about what kind of negotiator you want to be. Do you want to be a negotiator who leaves a trail of unhappy stakeholders?

I’m not a pussy cat when it comes to negotiating, and sometimes you need to use what you have in your toolbox, but you also need to maintain a long-term relationship in most instances and negotiating on fair terms – whether on price or timing or something else, is what’s in the best interests of the relationship.

Aim for win-win

Often people talk about finding out what ‘deal-breakers’ are for the other party and moving towards a win-win on that basis. The best way to find out what deal-breakers are can usually be to be upfront and ask – then you know what is not negotiable. Listen to the feedback carefully and adjust your terms accordingly.

The best type of negotiation is when you can put yourself in their shoes and genuinely work towards an outcome that benefits both parties. It’s no good if you get what you want and the supplier or customer (depending on your role) feels like they got screwed up or down on price.

Louise Osborne MIML, Minor Hotels’ Area Director of Sales in ACT, Victoria and Tasmania, adds an important point to consider: what’s important to the other party. “So often we think that price is the be-all and end-all,” Osborne says. “However sometimes (and often) price isn’t the most important thing.

“Negotiation is no different from weighing up options. If you have two similar hotels, in the same location, and one is priced slightly higher than the other but offers a more reliable and faster internet connection. A person who needs to stay connected to their organisation while travelling will, nine times out of 10, choose the slightly more expensive option because price is not that important to them,” Osborne concludes.

The unit across the road from me sold for well above market rate. So much so, that I can’t help but think that the person living there must have a serious case of buyer’s remorse. I think that just because you can get someone up or down on price, doesn’t mean you should…

Don’t forget: needs must

Thinking about the current environment – has negotiation changed? Email negotiation can be an extremely effective way to negotiate with the other party, so that hasn’t changed. Videoconference does mean that you can get a feel for a little bit of body language and tone, so, for the most part, it’s business as usual, but what I have found more difficult is not being face-to-face with someone you are trying to get a deal over the line with on your ‘side’ being there to pick up on their cues to negotiate with the other party.

The bigger issue right now, however, might be how much bearing the current climate has on how much people can pay for products and services (or us) – so be mindful of what sits under the surface for those who you are negotiating with right now. Do your homework – ask them what they have to spend if it’s budget-related, and never forget the final rule of negotiating – timing is everything!

Mastering these steps takes practice and plenty of preparation. But it’s not impossible to learn. As Rose-Marie Nathan advises, “I would encourage an honest look at your personal process to understand how you can include these tips to your continuous development. ”


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