Negotiate Like A Pro: 3 Steps To Finding Out If You’ve Left Anything On The Table

“How do I know whether I’ve gotten everything I could have out of a deal?”

This is one of the most common questions people ask me. To be fair, it’s a great question — and one that nags at all of us.

What if I told you that you can make sure you haven’t left anything on the table by following a simple three-step process that requires very little energy on your end? Here it is:

Step 1: Create A Positive And Playful Environment

People are six times more likely to make a deal with someone they like.

A few years ago, the great Tom Girardi — known as the top trial lawyer in California and of Erin Brokovich fame — told my negotiation class at the University of Southern California that the key to getting what you want in a negotiation is to be “nice and gentle.”

Tom knows that, in order to get what he wants, he needs to create an environment that immediately encourages the other side to lean in his direction.

This is another version of one of our rules around The Black Swan Group: Never be mean to someone who could hurt you by doing nothing.

In every negotiation, your ultimate goal is to find out whether the other side can help you even more than they already have. You’re looking for every inch of latitude they could possibly give you. At the same time, you need to see far enough ahead to understand how you want to leave them before your next interaction. When the conversation is over, you want to make sure your counterpart is in a positive place.

Research tells us that people don’t remember things as they happened. They remember the most intense moment of an encounter, and they also remember how things ended. As we say here, the last impression is the lasting impression. That’s why we have to orchestrate our interactions so we control the end — and can then ensure that the end is positive.

The flip side to this is that we also know our brains work up to 31% more effectively when we’re in a positive state of mind because, quite simply, we’re smarter when we’re in a positive frame of mind.

It doesn’t hurt us, then, to make our counterpart smarter, too. After all, we want them to come up with the best ideas that help us — and enjoy doing it!

Step 2: Produce Empathy

In any negotiation with your MSP clients or prospects, your goal should be to produce empathy and make the other side sympathetic to you and your goals. So, kick off a conversation with an apology. Nothing gets someone’s attention faster. They’ll wonder what the heck you’re apologizing for.

Believe it or not, this approach has the phenomenal effect of totally breaking the other side’s train of thought (in a nice way) and putting them in a position to be riveted by the next few words you say.

Introduce yourself and reintroduce yourself. Get your name out there. Make yourself a person. If you’ve been dealing with someone for a while, it never hurts to put your name back in their mind again. It’s a good refresher. You might also want to sprinkle in some self-effacing humility, which is a form of empathy that elevates your counterpart in a way they appreciate. You’ll also want to use their name sparingly — but not too sparingly.

A few years ago, after giving a session on negotiation at an Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) conference in Denver, an attendee taught me a brilliant insight I hadn’t known before. He suggested that when your counterpart says that’s right, they are confirming that you’ve hit the empathy bull’s-eye.

When you’ve gotten the that’s right, you’re ready for the next step.

Step 3: Provoke The Response With A Killer Label™

“It sounds like there’s nothing more you can do, like this is out of your hands. It sounds like you’re powerless here. It sounds like there’s nothing I can say to get you to make this deal.”

When you’ve gotten your that’s right, it’s time to use Labels™ to get more information from your counterpart. Labeling is a communication skill that allows us to attach a tentative identification of the dynamics, emotions, or circumstances implied by your counterpart’s words, actions, or demeanor. Such labeling shows that we are attempting to gain an understanding of the position they are in, who they have to influence, and challenges they face. When used effectively, labeling becomes one of the most powerful skills available to us because it helps us uncover the factors that drive the counterpart’s behavior.

Do not ask a question here. Say the Label gently, then go silent, keeping a supportive and approachable look on your face.

Let them respond. If they do have latitude, this is when you’ll find out. This is how you both figure out what’s what — and when you work to leave them in a positive frame of mind about the interaction. If they can’t do anything more, you’ve at least made a deposit in the karma bank, and you never know when that might pay a dividend in the future.

Never underestimate the power of Labels. People hate being powerless. I once had a customer service agent offer me a concession that I hadn’t even considered in response to this: It sounds like you’re powerless here. And doing so made them feel that much better.

When you’ve got your concession, thank them for their generosity, leave them with a smile, and make it rain!