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5 Things the Best Negotiators Know

I think I am a decent negotiator. I negotiate with my clients, my contractors, my vendors. And I do a fair amount of negotiation with my family, as well.

The challenge with negotiating is that I never really know if I did a good job. I may get what I think I want, and I try and do it without taking advantage of the other person. But, somehow, I often feel like I left something on the table that I shouldn’t have. Or worse, I may have taken more than my fair share.

Negotiation is hard. You start from an adversarial position and need to find a way for everyone to feel positive in the end. There are some best practices, so I tapped Molly Fletcher, who spent nearly two decades representing top sports figures, including Major League Baseball All-Stars, professional golfers, championship NBA and NCAA coaches, and media personalities. CNN nicknamed her “The Female Jerry Maguire.”

As the only female agent to close more than $500 million in deals, she knows a thing or two about hard negotiations. Fletcher is sharing her knowledge in her new book, A Winner’s Guide to Negotiating: How Conversation Gets Deals Done. She was kind enough to provide her five best negotiating tips that will help anyone get to a win.

1. Treat This as a Conversation, Not an Argument

Heated discussions are part of life. They are also a necessary part of the collaboration process. For a negotiation to be fruitful, a conversation must take place between two people where egos are checked at the door, and the ultimate goal is to remember the purpose for which you’re discussing. Fletcher advises to be clear and direct.

Remember, you’ll never get what you don’t ask for. But, you should understand and ask for what you truly want, not for what you think you will get. If you don’t know what you want, how will you know when you get it?

2. Asking Is Hard, So Power Through It

Fletcher talks about the “ask,” which is the point in negotiating that makes people feel most uncomfortable and fearful. Asking is a seed. It either takes root or withers, and the outcome depends on many factors beyond your control—which is understandably frightening. So much so that many people are afraid to ask at all.

Fletcher suggests drilling down the fear messages you have in your head and firming up the self-talk. Fletcher learned that self-talk and visualization are the core habits of high achievers and successful athletes. They have highly tuned defense mechanisms that shut out the negative voices.

Here are some suggested mantras you can adapt in your own words:

  • The other side likes me and what I have offered.
  • The other side knows I will help them.
  • The other side has shown that they believe I am trustworthy.

3. Embrace the Pauses

Silence makes people uncomfortable. It’s especially dreaded when in a conversation with an adversary or a relative stranger. But, accepting the breaks in a conversation, according to Fletcher, is necessary for a successful negotiation. Talking to fill the space in a negotiation is not the way to build solid, long-term relationships. No one really wants to do business with a chatterbox. Filling the silence in a negotiation can also signal that you are lacking confidence or that you are extremely nervous.

4. It’s Okay to Pack Up and Walk Away

Walking into a negotiation can be scary, but Fletcher points out that sometimes it’s even scarier to walk away. You may feel failure or relief or other deep emotions. Negotiations require difficult, immersive work that drains the mind, heart, and spirit. And sometimes you just need to know when to stop. If there is a deal to be done, all parties will come back to the table when ready.

5. Find Common Ground

A big challenge in negotiations is confronting the gap between where the parties are and where they want to be. Perhaps the expectations on both sides are unreasonable. Fletcher says that simple fear of failure can stall or stop the process even from the start.

Get things moving by finding simple, common ground between you and the other side. Long-term success hinges on the other side feeling that you are partners in the deal and that a mutual solution is possible. Begin where you can agree. Then you can tackle the hard stuff together.

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