If there is one rule that doesn’t change, it is this: don’t hope for the best. Unfortunately, most of us continue to hope for the best when finding ourselves in negotiating situations.
Experiments verify that preparation before negotiation leads to better outcomes. Experience by others and myself confirms this. At the least, when entering a negotiation, it is wise to write down what you must have, what you would like to have and what issues you might ask for that are not as important. List these wants in order of priority. This minimal plan will prove helpful because it will lead you to negotiate with yourself.
Unless you negotiate with yourself and prioritize your wants, you will have trouble getting what you need. Nor will it be clear what you can live without. The problem is that knowing what you want is not as easy as it sounds. Few people approach an oncoming negotiation by bargaining with themselves about their own priorities, nor do they ask themselves the hard questions necessary to handle a well-prepared opposing negotiator.
Another rule for relationship based negotiating is there is always a story in a negotiation. If you don’t take the time to understand the other side’s story, you won’t understand the final outcome reached and why and how it happened.
The way to get the story is, of course, by listening rather than talking. Unfortunately, too many negotiators limit their listening to what they want to hear rather than to what the other is actually saying or intimating. Others lose useful information because they are busy preparing how they plan to respond to some point made by the other side to which they take exception. Experiments confirm that most of us are poor listeners even when the negotiating stakes are high.
Listening is always a wise concession that gives much but costs little. Only if you are disciplined enough to listen without interruption or criticism will you learn the real story behind every position or concession the other party makes. You will also gain something more valuable: the respect of the other for listening. Good listeners are rare, quickly recognized and appreciated by those they deal with. That’s why the words, “He or she is a good listener,” commands our attention in a positive way.