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5 killer phrases that all negotiators should know

May 18, 2016

Negotiations can often be a mysterious process. Maybe the conversation has reached a sticky point, no one is budging and tempers are beginning to rise. Then one person says something and the whole situation transforms. You strike a great deal and everyone is best friends.

How did that happen? How did they know just what to say?

With negotiating being such a key skill in starting and running your own successful business, Simon Horton, author of The Leader’s Guide to Negotiation, reveals 5 phrases that you can use to get any negotiation back on track.
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To manage expectations, the first thing to say is that there is no magic wand that works in every negotiating situation. And I’m not a fan of tactical tricks – you say “X”, they come back with “Y”, then you get them with “Z”.

Anything like this is going to weaken trust and undermine the deal (think how you would feel if they did that to you).

But there are things you can do and, simply put, the closest thing out there to a magic wand is preparation. You can think on your feet quickly in that stand-off situation because you’d already considered the scenario.

I’m much more of a fan of the strategic approach to negotiation than the tactical – set the conversation up correctly and it is much more likely to go well.

But even the strategic approach can be facilitated with a few killer phrases. If you want the conversation to go down a particular route it will help if you have a nice phrase to move it in that direction.

 1. “So let’s think of a few possibilities”

Negotiation is actually a highly creative process. If you want to break the deadlock, you have to solve a problem, sometimes quite a knotty problem. And if you want to get a really great deal, beyond the normal expectation, you will have to think differently.

Standard thinking gets standard results, if you want to get something better, well, you need to think a bit more. And this means not accepting the first thought that comes to mind but exploring the situation more deeply.

Of course, you will be much more successful if you brainstorm together, together you will have more knowledge about possible solutions. So a phrase like, “So let’s think of a few possibilities” will set up this phase of the conversation.

In fact, I view negotiation as a collaborative problem solving process, ideally open book.

Clearly, don’t be too naïve. Don’t jump in giving away all your information before you have developed any relationship. But aim to build the trust; the closer you are to open book, the better solution you will reach.

2. “What if…”

Part of the brainstorming process is to make suggestions just to see where the idea might lead to. And, needless to say, you don’t want to be held to these suggestions unless the final idea is agreeable.

So, conditional language is a great way to put something out there for exploration. Use phrases like “What if you were to give us x, what would you need from us in return?” or conversely, “What if we were to give you y, what could you give us in return?”.

“What if…”, of course, is also great for scenario planning. Your deal wants to cover all possibilities. You may need to be vague in the beginning of the conversation but before you sign, make sure all eventualities are covered. That’s what all those contract clauses are for.

One caveat: make sure, while all this exploration is going on, that everyone is clear that nothing is agreed until it is all agreed. Any agreement is contingent on the whole final package rather than any sub-section of it.

 3. “I really like your idea that…”

Often, ideas fail because of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome. You can get around this by giving them the credit. If you suggest something, they may resist; but if they suggest it, they will fight for it. And if it’s a good idea, surely you want them fighting for it.

As Truman said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit’. So phrases like “I really like your idea that…” or “building on what you said earlier” can really get them onside.

In fact, boosting their ego, in general, does wonders. Especially if it is in front of their boss or client. Studies have shown that if you compliment someone, they assess you to be nicer and more intelligent. It’s an easy way to score points.

Can you do it too much? Yes, you don’t want be too sycophantic and, conversely, you don’t want to be too self-deprecating, either; it can undermine your credibility.

4. “So let’s get back to the bigger picture”

What happens when all the brainstorming isn’t working and you can’t get past a deadlock?

One solution is to step back and focus on the bigger picture. When both parties revisit what the negotiation is really about, there is usually a way forward.

Which isn’t to ignore the detail but always consider which is most important – detail or bigger picture? Look after the pence and the pounds look after themselves but, equally, don’t sacrifice the pound for the penny.

5. “I’m prepared to continue talking in good faith”

And what happens if they’re not being collaborative at all? What if they’re being downright obstructive? Well, you should be willing to walk away. This is key, otherwise you will come out with a bad deal.

There are many ways of dealing with difficult people. Ignore them, be aggressive back, smother them with kindness, use humour, call them on their behaviour.

The key point is you remain in control of your response and you never let their behaviour bully you into accepting a sub-optimal outcome.

So, try any or all of the above but if nothing is working, be willing to walk away. And before you do so, give them a chance to change. Warn them you are prepared to continue talking in good faith but otherwise you will leave the table. This is a carrot-and-stick approach and then it’s up to them.

Remember, there are no magic wands but negotiations can veer in different directions and these simple phrases will help you steer the conversation and keep it on track towards a successful solution.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Simon Horton, author of The Leader’s Guide to Negotiation: How to use soft skills to get hard results which is available now, published by FT Publishing, priced £16.99

More tips on successful negotiating

For more negotiating tips and tricks read;

If your negotiations require a pitch or presentation, these guides will also help;

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