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Negotiating is one of the most stressful — and critical — aspects of running a business. But with these tips, you’ll get a better, faster, Yes !




There’s an old-school negotiating tactic known as “the bathroom” that goes something like this: Feed your adversary a lot of water and high-fiber food, limit his access to the bathroom, and then just keep talking, making demands, and maintaining the pressure. In the end, he buckles, acquiescing to a deal that is hugely advantageous to your side.

Such negotiating lore sounds apocryphal — the kind of stories traveling sales reps might swap at the bar in the departure lounge. But they point to something at the heart of traditional negotiating: it’s a power game. Leverage is key. One side must lose — preferably in a humiliating way — for the other to win. Zero-sum.

Become a Master Negotiator

William Ury and Roger Fisher’s Getting to a Yes, first published 32 years ago, is credited with helping revolutionize thinking about negotiating. Not only did they advocate a more amicable approach to discussing disagreements but argued that the entire way we think about the subject is wrong. According to the two Harvard professors, our natural instinct is to engage in “positional bargaining” — adopting a position, arguing for it, then making concessions until compromise is reached. As egos become involved and people identify themselves with their stand, the whole thing gets antagonistic and messy. A better approach, Ury and Fisher said, was to “change the game” — to one where opponents “see themselves working side by side, attacking the problem, not each other.”

Most people today agree that an approach focused on getting to win-win is good. At the same time, others still find the thought of negotiating stressful and unpleasant and will try to avoid it because of the conflict and disagreement that make negotiating necessary in the first place. This is especially so for women; studies indicate women negotiate only about 25% as often as men do, and about 20% of women never negotiate at all.

The cost of poor negotiating skills is huge. According to some estimates, U.S. businesses lose well over $100 million per hour due to a lack of proficiency in the area. It’s not just the money left on the table. Badly negotiated deals result in unexplored opportunities, inefficiency, lower quality work, increased staff turnover, wasted time, lingering disputes and resentments, legal conflicts … the list goes on.

This hesitation to engage in negotiating is exacerbated by a widely held belief that negotiators are born, something many of our readers agree with: Many of our Screen Printing Brain Squad said they felt their negotiating skills were average to poor. The result is too often a sub-optimal compromise.

While it is true some people do seem to have an affinity for reading a room and the poise and temperament to successfully engage with even aggressive people, most of the skills related to negotiation can be learned. And the payoffs are significant, especially for small-business owners when so much in the marketplace already is stacked against them. Negotiation skills can help secure better deals with suppliers, customers, partners, and employees. They can help resolve conflicts, create value, and build trust. Moreover, they can boost business prospects by increasing credibility, reputation, and influence.

Become a Master Negotiator

The key to any successful negotiation starts with identifying the situation correctly. Is it a one-off commercial transaction that involves little more than bargaining over price? Is it an internal negotiation with employees, family members, or partners where the relationship is paramount (these are by far the toughest)? Or is it a more complex engagement that involves building a potentially long-term partnership? Only in the first example is the size of the pie more or less fixed — one party’s gain in terms of a lower price paid is the other’s loss. In the others, it’s about finding a solution that ideally will create additional value and then distributing that value among the two sides. In such situations, a simple compromise often isn’t helpful for either side.

“My experience is you do best when you figure out how the other side wins,” says Joel Peterson, a former JetBlue chairman and author of The 10 Laws of Trust. “The goal in negotiations should be to create value for all parties. That doesn’t mean being a doormat or capitulating; it means there is no point in beating the other parties into submission or making them feel like losers. If the other side benefits and you walk away satisfied, you’ve created two winners. Strengthening your relationship with the other party can also lead to more business, referrals, a stronger brand, and more lasting agreements,” he says.

Ury, noting most negotiations take place in the context of long-term relationships, compares it to a marriage. “If you are always asking: ‘Who’s winning this marriage?’… the marriage is in serious trouble.” It may be instructive, he says to “remember the Chinese billionaire who made his fortune by always giving his business partners a little more than he took for himself; everyone wanted to be his partner and they made him rich.”

Davis Slagle, owner, Bee Graphix, Fredericktown, PA, knows this scenario all too well. “Negotiating is an art that blends smart prep, connecting on a human level, and keen listening,” he says. “It’s about strategic pauses, empathy, flexibility, and knowing when to walk away. Aim for win-win solutions and always learn from each interaction. It’s the subtle art of finding common ground and making every conversation count toward better outcomes for everyone involved.”

Such a collaborative approach entails building trust, creativity, and sharing interests. It also means being assertive, fair, patient, and aware of the strategies and techniques employed by other negotiators.

Every negotiation is a little different and the art of deal-making is one that seems riven with contradictions: Be likeable/Don’t make offers to be likeable; Make the first offer/Never make the first offer; Reveal something important to build trust/Never give away useful information for free … It requires a flexible mind, and perhaps most of all an almost superhuman control of emotion.

As a founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, Ury came up with four principles to guide all negotiations. The first is, “Separate the people from the problem.” In other words, it’s your proposal that is being scrutinized, not you.

The other three are 1.) Focus on interests, not positions. 2.) Generate options for mutual gain. 3.) Insist on using objective criteria.

Be soft on the person, hard on the problem, Ury likes to say. Get that wrong — by being abrasive or overly accommodating — and the result the is poor, no deal done, or a strained relationship.

In the following pages, we present insights from fellow business authors, psychology, neuroscience, and recent research, that hopefully will provide you with practical strategies and a few tactics that make you feel more comfortable when engaging in difficult negotiations. You’ll take note when someone fills up your glass of water for the fifth time. And you’ll see a glass that’s more than half full, confidently smile, label the tactic — “Ah, the old bathroom…,” and declare, “OK, how about we try to find some shared value here?”


“Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.” Any serious negotiation requires far more preparation than actual face-to face talking. Harvard business professor Michael Wheeler, author of Art of Negotiation, urges you to think strategically with “strong ideas weakly held” as opposed to just winging it with the tactics you’ve always used. “We have best- and worst-case scenarios and we have an exit strategy, but we’re ready to throw things out the window.” Treat your plans as “assumptions that you will test,” he says.

“The best piece of advice is to make the actual effort to ask,” says Ashley Busenius Coy, Windmill City, Thousand Palms, CA. “Often times people are intimidated by the first step. If you don’t make an educated ask or counter, you’ll never get what you want. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll be rejected and then you can go from there — either accepting the initial offer or moving on to something else.”

Become a Master Negotiator


Before starting a negotation, there’s are some of the items that must be worked out ahead of time:

  • Research of industry benchmarks for the key numbers (prices, rents, salaries, minimum orders, etc.). “This removes (price) from the subjective and places it firmly in the realm of the objective, and then everyone can agree that the outcome is fair,” says skills trainer Simon Horton, author of Negotiation Mastery. People will be swayed by the “authority” of the market.
  • Your opening offer. The key word here is “defensible.” If you start too aggressively, you lose credibility and trust. Think big, yes. But be sure you can make a substantive case for your first offer — you want to be taken seriously on every offer that follows.
  • Your bargaining agenda. Perhaps as the buyer you’ll offer 65% at first, then 85%, then 95%, and 100% of the asking price, but under what terms and conditions? Consider also what your final offer will be — preferably a non-monetary item to show you are at your limit.
  • Your response to the opening offer. Get ready to deflect the punch. Rehearse what you’ll say: “I’m afraid that won’t work for us but …” / “Let’s put price off to the side for a moment and talk about what would make this a good deal.” / “What else would you be able to offer to make that a good price for me?”
  • Concessions. You need at least one — no seasoned negotiator will accept your first offer. What can you offer? What can you extract for everything you give away? Try to ascertain what non-monetary things are likely to be important— speed of delivery, price, or an endorsement?
  • Answers to curve balls. What will be your response if they say something like: “Tell me the absolute maximum you’d be willing to pay, and I’ll see if I can shave off a bit?” (The correct answer in this case would be to laugh and say, “Tell me the absolute minimum you’d be willing to accept, and I’ll see if I can add a bit.”) Get with your team and brainstorm answers to the questions you don’t want to answer.


“Researching the people you’re negotiating with is crucial, whether it’s a company or your next-door neighbor,” says Clive Rich, a corporate negotiator and author of The Yes Book. “Then moderate your behavior accordingly. There are observable types we all recognize — for example, the big picture thinker, the detail fiend. Try tuning into their wavelength.”


Behind every great plan stands a not-so-great but still acceptable Plan B. It’s the point that tells you when it’s time to walk away because you can get a better deal elsewhere. In negotiating circles it’s known as a “best alternative to a negotiated agreement,” or BATNA. It gives you clarity, confidence, leverage, and a benchmark. Moreover, it protects the downside. Possible BATNAS include going with another supplier or customer, dropping the project altogether, or going to court. “The definition of a successful negotiation is satisfying your interests better than your BATNA could,” says Ury.

Mark Coudray, Coudray Growth Tech, San Luis Obispo, CA, shares a story of leverage — and no doubt a willingness to walk away if his terms were not met — that we can all appreciate. “’Well-known business author Steven Covey says, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ Know where you want to end up before you start. Always consider your perspective from the customer’s point of view. If he can see what’s in it for him, you both win.”


“It’s important to visualize all the different ways the negotiating process can unfold and prepare appropriate emotional responses that keep the negotiation moving,” notes a primer on negotiation from UC Berkeley. How will you respond if they come on strong? Give you a gift? How would you react if they offer you mints, implying your breath is bad? “Being poised and stable makes asking for what you want and saying ‘No’ much more easily,” says the Berkeley paper. If you’re prone to jitters, reframe the anxiety as excitement, focus on the upside — what you could win, not lose — with a successful deal, see yourself in the third person… whatever psychological tricks have worked for you in the past.

Negotiating lore is full of stories of people who tried cutting a deal with the powerless underling or conversely didn’t realize the “clerk” setting up the projector actually was the CEO. Make sure the person you’re asking has the authority to approve a deal or give you a discount. In larger deals — say a negotiation with a family-run business — it may not be clear who is the real power holder. In his MasterClass on selling and persuasion, Dan Pink says, “The person speaking the most not always is the person with the most power. You must keenly observe the number of people to whom people look toward or address when they talk. The person with the most power to influence a decision is the one who most people address.”


Conventional wisdom says let the other side make the first offer in the hope they show their hand. Or, even better in the case of an inexperienced negotiator, make a very generous offer out of fear of upsetting the other party or being seen as greedy or uncooperative. Research, however, shows that whoever speaks first can seize control of the bargaining table and influence the ultimate price agreed, thanks to what’s known as the “anchoring effect.”

Anchoring does two things: A high initial quote or offer positively will influence the final price as people have a tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of information they receive when making decisions. A well-studied bias in humans that commonly is exploited by retailers, and secondly an extreme anchor, will make the “real number” seem reasonable. How do deal with a shark who throws out an extreme anchor? Smile and counter with your own extreme anchor.

In the words of Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler, negotiation is all about building trust: “Being honest is the best technique I can use,” he said. “Right up front, tell people what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re willing to sacrifice to accomplish it.” Peterson agrees, saying adding that “leading by example is the best way to encourage transparency, and, at a minimum, it certainly saves time.” Such advice runs counter to the traditional view that power in negotiations can derive from indifference. But the result is a negative engagement marked by defensiveness.

“If you’re too scared to admit what you want, you’ve taken yourself hostage,” says Voss. “Instead of thinking, ‘Oh, no, if they find out what I want, that gives them the power to say No,’ think, ‘Telling them what I need gives them a reason to give me what I want. If they can’t give me it, then we can’t make a deal.’”

Become a Master Negotiator


Give hard thought to what the other side’s BATNA might be. Not only does it allow you to consider strategic responses but perhaps more importantly it “really helps you assess the whole thing and you’re not just thinking my agenda, my agenda, my agenda. Here’s what I want: price, term, remedies, warranty. Well, go in and think about what is the lay of the land for the other party, and that helps,” says Joel Peterson, that former JetBlue chairman. Such an approach hints at one of the secrets of negotiating: You often can extract more value by focusing on the other side’s needs.

Says Matthew Pierrot of GetBOLD: T-shirt Printing and Embroidery, North Vancouver, B.C.: “Avoid negotiating with someone who needs to get to ‘win/lose’ to conclude the deal. If he needs to feel like you are the loser in the contract, then he is not someone you want to do long-term business with. In this industry, repeat customers are how you build a business. Building partnerships with multiple customers where you negotiate a ‘win/win’ contract means that you both can build your businesses bigger and better using each other’s success to boost your own. My negotiating tactic is first and foremost to size up the customer. What is his philosophy of business? Does it fit with mine? Will we work well together long term? If so, then let’s start talking dollars.”


Become a Master Negotiator


While your goal should be respect, not affection, being likeable — even an affable rogue — is a great asset at the negotiation table. “Other people may hate what you’re offering them or know that they’re not getting the best negotiated deal, but if they cannot find a reason to hate you. They will like you, and you will get more out of your negotiations more frequently,” says Peterson.

Connecting on a human level creates positive emotions that allow you and your counterpart to trust, be creative and take risks with ideas. Being likeable doesn’t mean you give away value at the negotiating table. It does mean that you: Invest time in building relationships; use rapport, find affiliations (shared interests), and reveal your humanity (sharing professional mistakes is always a surefire way to show your human). A few minutes of chit chat before getting down to business also allows you to observe people in less guarded moments, and maybe even their readiness to close.

Rookie mistake: Negotiating against yourself. It’s natural to get last-minute nerves but steel yourself and hold to your opening offer, especially in the face of a belligerent opponent. Notes Rich: “Many people think, ‘OK, I was going to ask for 100, but the other side will be really cross with me, so I’ll ask for 60 and see how I get on.’ You’ve already given away 40% without the other side doing anything. You’ve become your worst enemy.”

The same goes for important information. “We’ve got a 120 days’ inventory of that model. My manager’s giving us a bonus if we can move one of them,” is not harmless banter (although, yes, it will ingratiate you with the other side). “The rule to remember is the less the other side knows about our company’s business, the better off you are. And before telling them anything, make sure you know why you’re telling them what you’re telling them,” says Bill Sanders and Frank Mobus in their book, Creative Conflict: A Practical Guide for Business Negotiators.

“I’ve got a couple of examples of when I was just playful and I’m joking with people almost at my expense and it’s astonishing what you can get people to do if you if you hit them the right way,” says Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and co-author of the book Never Split the Difference. Of course, it’s best not to overdo it. Stories or attempts at humor should be modest short and topical. Be real. Leverage your own style and personality. If a story has worked once, keep it and use it again.


Being a generous person is an unarguably good way to live your life. But in negotiations? The traditional view is to never give away anything without 1.) knowing its value to the other party, and 2.) extracting something in return. Voss disagrees. “This correlates strongly with people I want to do business with,” he says. “If they figured out something that they know is valuable for me and they’ve just done it and they’ve just offered it like right off the bat, no strings attached. That’s the kind of person I want to do business with.”

The power of reciprocity is well documented. Choose your gifts carefully. The idea is to build rapport, not undermine your bargaining position. Giving away a 10% discount on price without a reason only will encourage your counterpart to expect a similar discount every time you meet.

Pride of place in any negotiator’s toolkit is the probe. Simply put, a probe is a succinct, open-ended question designed to elicit helpful information and move the negotiation forward. Probe to understand your counterpart’s interest. Probe to turn their no into a “Yes.” Probe when the client is using a hardball tactic. The more you understand what he wants, the more you can see how you can deliver value. And the more value you can deliver, the more value he may be willing to exchange.

At a minimum, the odds of a transaction increase as you understand more. The key is to probe with sincere curiosity and to test assumptions. For instance, if you’re interested in a product line but don’t like the initial terms offered, don’t ask a binary question like, “Is this your final offer?” Instead, try something open-ended like, “What would it take to get?”


“Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret,” Ury states in The Power of a Positive No. Although he notes there are times when it is appropriate to get vexed (of the controlled variety) — perhaps they lied or showed up hours late — but use anger sparingly. People don’t trust histrionics and don’t want to deal with angry people. Negotiators who rant and rave attain little respect.

Many aggressive types simply have watched too many movies. They are quick with deadlines and threats, but they don’t have a strong grasp on the underlying fundamentals of the negotiation. Overwhelming you is their entire strategy. Stay calm and you can take advantage of the situation. Faced with an old-school, uber-competitive negotiator or just an outright bully, choose to be the adult in the room. Compliment him on his tough negotiating style. Then suggest you are likely to give better concessions if you can get a commitment to collaborate.

Once people make such a commitment, most feel bound by it. Model collaborative behavior by asking questions to discover your counterpart’s interests. “OK, I’m listening. I’m not sure we can go along with that but let me understand your position a little better. Tell me the thinking that went into that.” Sometimes you may even find out that the other side has a point; perhaps they are just explaining themselves badly. Force them to be empathetic by asking for their view on your situation and offer and how to improve it in a way that would work for both sides.

Studies show power can distort the stronger party’s ability to get perspective. If all else fails, respond in kind. For example, when the other side opens with an outrageous offer (high or low), reply with an equally outrageous counteroffer, and a smile. “This works well if they simply are testing your resolve or if they are bluffing. But be warned; people have tendency to reciprocate negative behaviors more than positive ones,” says Mobus.

If they throw your efforts to be collaborative back in your face, then your best option is to walk away. “The worst thing in life is to get in business with people that don’t have the same values you have, that you don’t respect. I mean, it is misery,” Peterson says. He adds that he always keeps the advice, “Don’t wrestle with pigs, you get dirty and they enjoy it,” close at hand.


Once you have the other side’s attention so they will listen to your ideas, how do you find mutual gain concessions? The most important way is not making — or asking for — unilateral concessions, says Mobus. “If you make a concession, you should say, ‘Yes, I can do that for you, but here’s what I need you to do in return for me.’ Or, ‘No, I can’t live with what you’re asking for, but here’s what I can offer you instead.’”

Keith Abrams, The Decoration Facility, Indian Trail, NC, says basic sale negotiations states that a “No” is a request for more information. “If you get a “No,” what your client really is saying is, “So what?’ Answer that with value and see what happens.”

Silence is powerful, whether you are deliberating a piece at a trade show, or are engaged in a negotiation. Humans are conditioned to fill the gaps in conversations. Silence can throw people off their game and affect their decision making. State your price, make an observation, ask a challenging question, and then switch to a respectful silence (count thousands in your head). If you maintain eye contact but don’t speak, your counterpart might start rambling, reveal an important detail, or make concessions they wouldn’t otherwise. Maintaining silence offers an excellent window into the other party’s point of view.

Anyone can learn to negotiate better although some people do seem to have a natural gift for it. Call it emotional intelligence or just common sense, but they understand:

  • People want to be heard. Only then do their ears open.
  • People want their autonomy. Don’t back people into a corner — they will disagree even when it’s not in their interest to disagree. Answering open-ended questions gives people the feeling they are in control of the conversation.
  • Fight or flight reactions. When people’s interests feel threatened, they instinctively go on the defensive, bringing down the shutters, while tunnel vision sets in.
  • Insult someone and they won’t forget.

Sometimes you have no choice but to bluff. But understand it’s a high-risk strategy. One bad bluff and your reputation — and whatever trust you have built up — is burned. Business also is not like poker, where you can be fairly confident the other side has no idea what cards you hold. But in business, you can’t know how much the other party knows, whether they have talked to other people in the market, or whether a vendor has mentioned something about your competitive position. “If you play mind games, be prepared for a negotiation where misdirection and deception are the primary tools, and one where your odds of success go down,” says Peterson.

Become a Master Negotiator

What insights or tips you do you have to improve your negotiating skills as you seek to get a “Yes” from your customers?

  • “I am pretty firm on my pricing and there isn’t much room for negotiation. We have our pricing nailed down and we sometimes will knock maybe a quarter off for garments. I am not in the printing industry to get every job that comes our way. Not everyone is our type of client and sometimes we also aren’t a good fit for them either.” — Daysha Rojo, SketchShe Branding LLC, Clinton, OK
  • “We don’t negotiate our standards to meet certain price points. When a client says he can get something cheaper somewhere else, we respond with, ‘We are confident that our prices reflect our quality and service.’”  — Ryan Toney, P&M Apparel, Polk City, IA
  • “I’m not a car salesman. I don’t push people into buying. I offer the best I can for their budget and needs.” — Jon Botroff, Black Dog Printing, Richmond, IN
  • “What is the result you are trying to achieve? What problem are you trying to solve? How will this be used?” — Richard Greaves, Screen Police, Wyandotte, MI
  • “Get the customer talking about himself and what he does to get passionate about it. Ask lots of questions and the sale is practically made without even saying a word about yourself. If you can do this in a genuine way — not just a sales ploy — you will not only make the sale but also make a partnership for years to come.”  — 
Charlie Vetters, Organic Robot Designs, Greenfield, IN


The most useful questions start with what, how, and sometimes but rarely why, says Voss. “Don’t use can, is, are, do, or does,” he says. The goal is to avoid questions that can be answered with “Yes” or tiny pieces of information.
Here are some useful ones to keep in your quiver:

  • Implementation questions: “And how do you think we could do that?” (Good for shifting perspective and forcing empathy from the other side)
  • Exploratory questions: “Under what circumstance …?” (To close the gap when positions are far apart)
  • Option questions: “How about?” “What if …?” “Might another way work?”
  • Persuasive questions: Research — and recent political history — shows you can’t persuade anyone to see your point of view with “facts.” Ask subtlety to question their beliefs (“What do you think would happen if …?”) and you may inspire the other person to come up with his own reasons.
  • Comeback questions: When they say no, your only response is “Why?”

Before people can move forward, they need to feel they were heard. One of the best ways to do that is by summarizing and paraphrasing back to them what they say. “Summarize early and often, their reservations, their concerns, what they are up against,” says Voss. “Ask, ‘Do I have that right?’ You’ve got to get to ‘That’s right’. Although a ‘No, it’s not’ is almost as helpful. ‘You’re going to be much more candid with me if you’re correcting me than if I’m asking you with a question.’ It’s ridiculous how much faster things go and then it becomes both an information-gathering and a rapport-building process simultaneously,” he explained recently on the popular Huberman Lab podcast.

“If you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘No’” is a central tenet of negotiating. Indeed, “just asking” — even with no justification — can often work in a surprising array of situations. A survey in Britain found customers could regularly obtain discounts of up to 20% from popular retailers just by asking for a better price on the company’s online chat function.) With humans, the key is a friendly tone, “I was hoping you could help me out.” And if the sales rep pushes back, you can always respond in good humor, “Well, I had to ask!”

There’s a saying that if you’re playing chicken with another car on the highway, the only way to make sure you’ll win is to make a show of throwing your steering wheel out the window. That’s what it is with your BATNA. The opposing party must know you have one and are willing to execute it — although it’s best to do it early before you get to the hard bargaining stage and to do it in an advisory even conversational rather than threatening way. People don’t respond well to threats. Keep it vague and don’t disclose details. If it’s a particularly weak BATNA, keep it super vague. If your counterpart knows the details, he or she is likely to offer you something just a bit better — what is known as your Least Acceptable Agreement (LAA) — and you are likely to have to take it.

When there is a lot at stake, you feel like your position is being attacked or your side is not being respected. Or, conversely, when an unbelievably good offer is tabled, it can be hard to control your emotions. It’s how con artists work their craft; they get their targets into a heightened emotional state they refer to as ether. Because most simply put, emotions make us dumb. And as much as we may remind ourselves of that fact, it makes no difference — psychological research shows we are terrible at predicting how we will behave when our emotions are stirred.

Still there are things you can do regain sanity. See emotions as a sign something important is possibly at stake — be it simply your ego or a point relevant to your business. Do something to change your physiology of the encounter. If you know you are about to get defensive, smile. Adopt what negotiators call their “late-night DJ voice.” The lower sound range literally can lower tension. Breathe deep. Label your emotions (“Ah, it’s Freddy Fear again.”) Most important is to slow down, create distance, and give yourself time to think things over.

Ury refers to this as “going to the balcony.” “You can’t control whether you’re going to have emotions, but you can control whether you are going to act out on them. There’s that little moment where you can train yourself. It’s like a muscle, you can then go to the ‘balcony’ and see the overall picture,” he says. “You then will likely realize, OK, this is just business, it’s not life-threatening, and we need to get back to the big picture. Maybe the aggression is coming from a place of fear.” Poise can be the difference between a successful deal and one that falls through. “When you get emotional, you give the other person the advantage. Every time,” says Voss.


If you’ve worked in sales any length of time you’ve likely encountered the almost embarrassed customer, who, while avoiding eye contact, mumbles something like, “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a discount, don’t worry if you can’t…” Such negotiators are all too easy to deal with.

The counterpart who oozes confidence, charm, and authority is another story. “Thinking like a negotiator begins as soon as you walk through the door. It’s an air of confidence and control that’s apparent in your face, your voice, your posture. Since they’re well prepared going in, they rarely get caught flat-footed or rocked back on their heels. Rather than conceding too quickly, they keep asserting their interests,” says Mobus. Splash water on your face. Slip into character!

“I’ve always found the most successful negotiations are those treated like conversations, or exercises in which both sides are solving a problem, with the eventual answer being one word: Fair,” says Peterson. “It’s a conversation looking for creative ideas to expand value and lead to sustainable agreements. These conversations benefit from empathy, intuition, cooperation, listening, giving due credit for ideas, and not interrupting each other.”

Mobus concurs, “Collaborating to reach a solution can be energizing, socially gratifying, and filled with surprises. If you approach the agreement with the spirit of cooperation and collaboration (rather than conflict), not only will you enjoy it more, but you will get a better result — for both sides, he says.

Andy MacDougall, MacDougall Screen Printing Ltd., Royston, B.C., has found that approach works well in screen printing too. “Treat the customer like he is important,” he says.”Get all his info, get back quickly with numbers, if he starts whining about price, show him the door. And oh yeah, print high quality and deliver on time. Most of the time that will be all the negotiating you need.”

Become a Master Negotiator


The FBI has a five-step trust-building approach to manage hostage-takers that ideally ends with the perp coming out with his hands up. It starts with “active listening.” This is not just being quiet. It’s showing sincere curiosity, leaning forward, obvious contemplation, summarizing, and asking relevant follow-up questions. “Focus first on what they have to say,” says Voss. “Once they are convinced you understand them, only then will they listen.”

There are other benefits from listening. You get goodwill and information. There’s also the chance you’ll give less away if you’re not talking all the time. It will also help you avoid what Roger Fisher, Ury’s co-author, called the mistake of “Deducing their intentions from your fears.” Listen carefully for the intent behind the words. It’s not unusual the counterparty will seek to obscure what is most important but you can usually infer it.

It’s often a practical aspect of the deal — price, time frames, support, extended payment terms. But other times the client will reveal it’s something else like an introduction you can facilitate or some form of recognition such as a statue in the carpark, or a personal fear assuaged. All this can often be gleaned by listening intently.

Become a Master Negotiator


It’s not just hotel booking sites. Every seller will try to rush you to close the deal. But there usually is little to be gained from racing to the end of negotiation. Not only does it eliminate the potential to develop a mutually beneficial solutions by testing assumptions with your counterpart, but there are also strategic reasons to take your time. A push to close a deal right from the start usually will prompt the other party to get defensive, and rightly so, says corporate negotiator Alan McCarthy.

“Every negotiation you’re going to be involved in has a time scale and tempo of its own that you’ll recognize.,” he says. “The thing to be aware of is when the other party starts changing the tempo, usually speeding it up. What it means is one or two things: They either have recognized a mistake you’ve made and they want your name on the paper so that they can enforce it, or they’ve seen an advantage for themselves that you haven’t yet valued and what they want again is to have your name on the paper.


So you enter big and immediately are lapped down with a huge, “No.” It’s easy to get defensive and assume the deal is over. But a more productive way to view this is as the sign that negotiation has just begun. Indeed, Voss encourages negotiators to seek out a “No” so they can get more clarity on what parts of the deal the other side isn’t comfortable with, wants to change, or simply doesn’t understand. When you get a “No,” he suggests following up with questions that help both parties come to a solution. For example: “What about this doesn’t work for you?” or “What would you need to make this work?”

“Have you ever negotiated with somebody for whom every deal point is something that he must win? You know, everything is compared and with everything that’s brought up, they must win every deal point. I’m here to submit to you that’s a dumb way to negotiate,” says Peterson. “This is a give-and-take, if you’re going to try to develop relationships, or if you’re going to try to come out with creative solutions, you really don’t want this. Be willing to lose some battles to win the war.”

  • People want to be heard. Only then do their ears open.
  • People want their autonomy. Don’t back people into a corner — they will disagree even when it’s not in their interest to disagree. Answering open-ended questions gives people the feeling they are in control of the conversation.
  • Fight or flight reactions. When people’s interests feel threatened, they instinctively go on the defensive, bringing down the shutters, while tunnel vision sets in.
  • Insult someone and they won’t forget.

Sometimes you have no choice but to bluff. But understand it’s a high-risk strategy. One bad bluff and your reputation — and whatever trust you have built up — is burned.

Business also is not like poker, where you can be fairly confident the other side has no idea what cards you hold. But in business, you can’t know how much the other party knows, whether they have talked to other people in the market, or whether a vendor has mentioned something about your competitive position.




Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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