I've read a great many books on negotiation. Some of the most notable ones are Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury and Influence by Robert B. Cialdini. These are great books on teaching you the process of negotiation. They show you the key steps to being a successful negotiator and the importance of having a strategy.
To me, the most important lesson I learned from these books and the classes I have taken on negotiation is the importance of advanced preparation. That's why the other book that I recommend you to read is the classic The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
Now, in today's society I fully expect a little negative feedback by taking a common business practice and comparing it to something as serious and concerning as war. So I do want to explain. The message in The Art of War could just as easily be called The Art of Competition. It is really just a book about how to build a strategy to win. So please understand that I am not trivializing war at all, that's just the title of the book.
Let's talk a little about some key lessons from The Art of War. First, this quote is a great one to sum up the need for preparation; "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win." What this says to me is that with proper preparation and strategy, you've already won the negotiation when you walk into the room. If you start negotiating before you are prepared, then you have already lost.
Now that we've learned Sun Tzu's message on preparation, what are the most important things to prepare? Well for that I go to arguably the most famous quote from the book "If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles." This quote comes to me all the time as I build a negotiation strategy.
I generally know what I am looking for, but it is so powerful to know what the other side wants. What is important to them? We often just turn every negotiation into a price battle and a positional negotiation. However, in business things are far more complex. What does the other side really need? Are they looking for a long term commitment to obtain capital? Better payment terms because debt is expensive to them? Also, what do you as a customer bring to them that they need?
By knowing what is important to them, you can determine what those items cost you. If you can award the other side more value than you are giving up, then you have just increased the value equation of the transaction at a low cost to your side.
Once you begin negotiating, another good lesson is summed up in the quote, "Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance." We should always be humble and not let our own perceived importance get in the way. A salesman's role is to use your ego against you by convincing you that you are the best negotiator in the world. They then get you to sign something that makes you feel brilliant, all while never really giving you the best deal. The best negotiators I have ever seen are humble, they don't take compliments and they don't let the other side "build them up." Play the role of the humble negotiator and force the other side into making an arrogant mistake. There is a second lesson that is applicable here, "supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
If you prepare properly, have a good strategy, execute the strategy and don't let ego get in the way then it is very likely that you will be able to meet all of your goals. Also, by knowing your counterpart and their interests, it's very possible that there are so many mutual gains that the negotiation will go very smoothly with both sides winning.
As I close, I have the final quote from The Art of War for you "All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved." This is true of any competition. We all see the PGA pro golfer play 18 amazing holes and think that they are just "that good," but what we don't see are the 1,000 practice balls each day, the hours of putting and the strength training that all go into preparing. So, if you've seen negotiators that impress you with their skill and results, realize that all you saw was the result of a lot of hard work and strategy. I am certain you can master those skills and hopefully, catching up on a little classical Chinese literature will help you on your journey.