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Five Critical Negotiation Skills You Won't Learn Anywhere Else

Do you think you're a good negotiator? Got a few successes under your belt? Ready to take on the world? Well, the only problem with that is that the folks across the table feel the same way. How good you think you are really doesn't count.

What does count is how good you are relative to your opponent. You see, negotiations are a zero-sum game. We talk about win-wins, but in reality, they're rare. In executive-level corporate negotiations, one company typically gets the better of the other.

Negotiations are the hardest thing to master in the corporate world and there's always more to learn. That said, once you've learned the basics, the only way to improve is by negotiating alongside and against folks who've been at it longer than you. Unfortunately, there's usually too much at stake for on-the-job training. It's sort of a catch 22.

Well, I'm here to help. I've been involved in dozens of corporate negotiations and I'd like to share what I've learned over 10 plus years as a senior executive negotiating against big, multinational companies like Intel, LG, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Toshiba.

Five Critical Negotiation Skills You Won't Learn Anywhere Else

  • Completely and honestly assess your relative position. Information is everything, and so is making sure you've got a completely honest and straightforward assessment of your position and your opponent's, going in. If you walk in with sugar-coated "facts" or breathing your own fumes, you can overplay your hand like Yahoo did with Microsoft, or vice versa.
  • Study precedent, inside and out. Precedent means terms you and your opponent have agreed to in prior negotiations with other companies. It doesn't matter if the terms were confidential; assume everybody knows everything. There's virtually no defense against precedent in a negotiation. But remember, it works both ways.
  • Plan for all contingencies, up front. Go in with a solid plan: Good cop, bad cop; worst case scenario; bottom line terms; under what circumstances do you walk out; which terms are negotiable and to what extent; when to hold back and when to offer a negotiating chit; the extent of your authority, etc. Anticipate all the same things from your opponent's side.
  • Never negotiate with yourself. Under no circumstances should you offer revised terms until your opponent has countered. Make sure they've responded fully on every term before you counter. Of course, feel free to try to use this in reverse, but most are savvy to it and it may hurt your credibility.
  • Always seek to raise your opponent's risk. This is especially critical in prolonged negotiations with ongoing litigation. Your actions, both at the negotiating table and in the court room, must always be designed to raise your opponent's risk. Also, your opponent must believe you're willing and able to go the distance. That means a big war chest and minimal exploitable vulnerability.
I'm aware that these tips could use further explanation and examples, which I'll follow up on if the demand is there.

I had executive-level corporate negotiations in mind when I wrote this, but for the most part, these tips are equally effective for any kind of negotiation between companies, individuals, and any combination thereof. You may want to draw the line at spouse and kids, but that's strictly up to you.

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