Negotiation for dummies

Negotiation is something we do all the time. Maybe you’ve never been involved in a hostage negotiation, a major-league trade, or a business merger. But it’s likely that you were already part of more than one negotiation today before you read this article.

Negotiation: Control Yourself

Negotiation is conversation with the goal of agreement. Often the things we are negotiating really matter to us. It can be hard to keep an even emotional keel when you’re trying to reach an agreement on something important like responsibilities in a relationship, job description, salary, disciplining your kids, etc.

One simple thing you can do, in order to maintain control of yourself when it matters most during a tense negotiation, is to recognize your emotions. If you can at least sense what is happening to you emotionally, that you are getting anxious or afraid or angry, then you are ahead of the game. Another simple thing you can do when the emotions are starting to perk is to deliberately roll your shoulders and breathe deeply several times. I’ve learned through my work leading soldiers and speaking in public to keep breathing. When you breathe in and out deeply, your body has a way of helping reset and even out your emotions.

If you are obviously angry or upset, it is not likely you’re thinking on your feet as well as you could be. Another tactic you can use is to take a break by using the restroom, getting a drink, or even postponing a negotiation until a later time after you’ve had some time to calm down.

Negotiation: Give Something Up

People often forget that negotiation is conversation with the goal of agreement. We have a goal in sight, and we conduct our negotiation more like an ultimatum. Sometimes an ultimatum might be what’s needed in a particular situation (see below). But more often in life, people negotiate because there is a point of agreement somewhere between them that can be reached by compromise.

It’s a little bit tricky, but expert negotiators like the guys on American Pickers do this all the time. They intentionally wait as long as they can for the person who has something they want to name a price. That sets the top limit. Then they come in at a price significantly lower than what they’re actually willing to pay. This gives them as the buyer room to come up from the low price as they work to get the seller to come down from the high price.

There are times when we fail to reach agreements with other people about things simply because we are too selfish. We want what we want, and we are completely unwilling to give up anything from our opinion or our position. Sometimes this might be what’s needed (see below). But more often than not, I think we’d all be much happier if we would be a little more willing to give up our preferences for the good of the team or the community. This is part of the reason politics in the U.S. is so ugly right now. We’ve made politics into a matter of posturing about principle, rather than reaching practical compromises for the good of our nation.

Negotiation: Be Willing to Walk Away

There are times when the path to a successful negotiation winds through an ultimatum. Over a decade ago, there was a shiny red Nissan 200SX I wanted in Des Moines. I negotiated the salesperson from over $10,000 down to $6,200 where we stalled out. He was not going to sell me that car for $6,200. I though $6,200 was fair, I didn’t really need a different car right then, so I walked away. Two weeks later my phone rang: “Do you still want that car for $6,200?” I still thought that was a good price, and something had changed on his end (monthly sales goal?) to make him think so too.

Sometimes you have to be willing to walk away in order to do the right thing. I believe both as a military officer and as a pastor that I need to be willing to walk away at any time in order to do my job effectively. What I mean by this is that I must have an internal integrity about what matters. My integrity has to be strong enough on some issues that I will quit rather than compromise. When I reach the point that I’m no longer willing to walk away every single day, I had better move to a less principle-laden line of work. My resignation letter is written and it would be costly to use it, but I will always have those values which I am unwilling to give up. I can think of a handful of situations where my attitude on these issues and my willingness to walk away has given me the courage to do what was needed. So far I haven’t had to walk away. But I need to be willing to, to win in those negotiations.


About the author

Dr. Jon Wymer

Jon works as the pastor of York Evangelical Free Church in York, Nebraska. He also serves part-time as a chaplain in the Nebraska Army National Guard and at Nebraska Methodist College in Omaha.

View all posts