Think through best/worst-case scenarios but only write down a specific goal that represents the best case. Typically, negotiation experts will tell you to prepare by making a list: your bottom line; what you really want; how you’re going to try to get there; and counters to your counterpart’s arguments.
But this typical preparation fails in many ways. It’s unimaginative and leads to the predictable bargaining dynamic of offer/counteroffer/meet in the middle. In other words, it gets results, but they’re often mediocre.
You’re going to have to have something to talk about beyond a self-serving assessment of what you want. And you had better be ready to respond with tactical empathy to your counterpart’s arguments; unless they’re incompetent, the other party will come prepared to argue an interpretation of the facts that favors them. Get on the same page at the outset. You have to clearly describe the lay of the land before you can think about acting in its confines. Why are you there? What do you want? What do they want? You must be able to summarize a situation in a way that your counterpart will respond with a “That’s right.” If they don’t, you haven’t done it right.
Prepare three to five labels to perform an accusation audit. Anticipate how your counterpart feels about these facts you’ve just summarized. Make a concise list of any accusations they might make—no matter how unfair or ridiculous they might be. Then turn each accusation into a list of no more than five labels and spend a little time role-playing it.
Prepare three to five calibrated questions to reveal value to you and your counterpart and identify and overcome potential deal killers. Effective negotiators look past their counterparts’ stated positions (what the party demands) and delve into their underlying motivations (what is making them want what they want). Motivations are what they are worried about and what they hope for, even lust for.
Ask yourself: “What could they give that would almost get us to do it for free?” Think of the anecdote I told a few chapters ago about my work for the lawyers’ association: My counterpart’s interest was to pay me as little cash as possible in order to look good in front of his board. We came upon the idea that they pay in part by publishing a cover story about me in their magazine. That was low-cost for them and it advanced my interests considerably.
Think about their perceived losses. Never forget that a loss stings at least twice as much as an equivalent gain. For example, the guy across the table may be hesitating to install the new accounting system he needs (and you are selling) because he doesn’t want to screw anything up before his annual review in four months’ time. Instead of lowering your price, you can offer to help impress his boss, and do it safely, by promising to finish the installation in ninety days, guaranteed.