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So much has been written about successful (and failed) negotiations that certain universals are well established, but there are still other lesser-known essentials that I’ve learned over my 50-year real estate career.
Perhaps the number one universal is to look for a win-win in any negotiation. Both parties must agree to the terms and both must gain something as a result. Other negotiation skills are building rapport, avoiding a combative stance or approach, and being mindful of the moment.
Other tips for a successful negotiation include reframing difficult questions or ultimatums to lower the temperature, being tough when and if necessary, and delaying acceptance. It’s all too easy to derail a negotiation with bad timing, such as taking something off the table too early or offering something too late.
And then there are things I’ve discovered through countless negotiations that should really set you on a path to success.
Related: 5 Steps to Mastering the Art of Negotiation
My “gotos” before the negotiations begin
The most important thing to me is to simply know as much as I can about the person sitting in front of me. All. I want to know what sports they like, their career history, something about their families (spouses and children) and sometimes deeply personal facts. For example, does he have a spectacular business success or failure in his past?
Most people do not spend enough time to understand who they are dealing with. I consider it essential. When negotiations start to slow down, you can often “break down” their wall by talking about what’s important to them.
Knowing someone’s cultural background is also critical. Some cultures really look for a win-win, but other cultures see it as a failure unless they see the outcome as a win for them and a loss for the other side. Some cultures think that negotiation is natural and expected. Obviously, you have to frame things differently depending on the type of negotiator you’re dealing with.
For example, you wouldn’t make your best and final offer when dealing with a negotiator until the give-and-take process has progressed. They won’t succeed without negotiating and you may have ceded ground unnecessarily.
In addition to knowing everything about the person, I want to know their “real needs” and I want to know them going into the meeting. Are they looking to add to a company, diversify, get something to break even or flip for a quick profit? If I know the answer to their true needs, I can usually come up with a deal, one that’s also good for me.
Emotions matter a lot!
Never discount the role of emotions in negotiation, and I don’t mean the emotions involved in battle. Remember the universal that you shouldn’t approach this as combat.
Let me give you a real life example. I once learned that the person I was going to negotiate with had lost a brother to suicide. It happens that my brother committed suicide. This allowed us to connect in a very personal way, understanding the suffering we had gone through and what it did to our parents.
The bond we established allowed us both to concede important points to reach agreement. We wanted to do it for the sake of others as well as our own.
Other emotions to be very mindful of are confidence (yes, that’s an emotion in my book), anger (obviously), and self-doubt (guessing can be fatal to a negotiation). You want to create an environment that evokes the best emotions of the person you are dealing with in order to achieve success.
Related: 8 Negotiation Tactics Every Successful Entrepreneur Has Mastered
In addition to my real estate work, I am very involved in philanthropy, both my own and that of some very successful and very generous people I advise.
After deciding which issues and causes to support, and making sure that the organizations we support have a good reputation and track record, comes the negotiation.
The universals still apply: look for a win-win, come to mutually acceptable terms, and be mindful of the moment. But there are also unique aspects to negotiating major gifts.
If you’re donating to build a school for special needs children, for example, you want to negotiate a contract that will prohibit using the building for other purposes or selling the building. You want to negotiate the terms and make provisions that your gift will only be used for your stated purpose.
Do you want “naming rights” and what donation size does that involve? This is also a negotiation, not a predetermined equation. A donor’s name often has its own cachet and this has value to consider in negotiations.
The core of every negotiation
If you only take one thing away from my lessons, I hope it’s this:
When you negotiate anything—business, philanthropy, or even personal—you are negotiating with a person. Lose sight of that and you’re unlikely to succeed. Keep this in mind and, in my experience, you’re likely to be successful. and so I want to know everything I can about anyone I do business with.