Business negotiations aren’t confined to contract talks with third parties or discussions about a raise in salary. They take place in brainstorming sessions, elevator pitches to potential investors, and everyday conversations with coworkers.
Mastering persuasive communication in business is essential to a successful career, regardless of your position. So, how do you master those important skills? What should you focus on when you’re involved in any type of business negotiations?
Those types of questions were answered in an interview with Curtis Rhodes, who works as an IT operations manager and scrum master at a large publishing company. Previously, Rhodes was responsible for all contract negotiations for an entire IT department. Now, while managing multi-tiered teams between 5 and 50 people, he negotiates contracts up to $1.4 million in value with companies such as SalesForce, Microsoft, and Amazon.
The following sections explore tactics for business negotiations and how to get better at persuasive communication in business.
How to Approach Business Negotiations
Before you engage in business negotiations, you should have a clear plan for what you’re trying to accomplish. Map out your objectives and think about how you’ll approach getting what you want. At the same time, you’ll need to anticipate the other party’s needs and objectives.
Establish a Clear Set of Objectives
“When it comes to contract negotiations, you need to make sure that you have a very specific outcome that you want to achieve,” Rhodes said.
He recommended determining what outcomes you can and can’t live without. For example, Rhodes discussed doing some contract negotiations for an Amazon migration, and his team had a clear idea what they could do in-house and what they couldn’t do. That knowledge helped them establish clear objectives for what they wanted and to ensure what they received would meet their needs.
“Have a clear set of objectives, that’s the number one thing,” Rhodes said. “Number two is when you’re doing these negotiations, you need to make sure that you keep everyone in a similar kind of head space where no one feels like they lose and everyone feels like they come out with a win. There’s always a loser and a winner, but at the same time, if everyone feels like they’ve come out with a win, you’re always going to have a better outcome in the end after the negotiation than you would if someone knows that they just outright lost.”
Accomplishing a win-win for the other side is possible by offering concessions or additions to the deal. You may be the big winner by getting what you want at the best price, but if you’re able to help the other party get a slightly better version of the “outright win,” that can ease the situation. As Rhodes touched on, it can also improve future relationships by avoiding an outright win that leaves the other party without anything positive.
Applying Specific Tactics in Business Negotiations
One of the strongest tactics in business negotiations, according to Rhodes, is to wait once you provide a number or option.
“The reason you wait for the other person to respond is because . . . in that sense, whoever responds first loses because they’re the one that’s going to have to give something,” he added. “So, once you make a demand or once you make a request for either a number or for something along those lines that you need to have done in your contract, you just wait for them to respond on it and you just sit back and stare at them to make sure that they understand that the ball is in their court because whoever speaks first loses.”
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Negotiating prices illustrates the power of that tactic. If you’re trying to get a better price on a contract, you’ll have a better chance if the other party is the first one to provide a number. Instead of saying what you’re willing to pay, you might ask what their best price is. The number the party provides may be lower than where you may have started, if you were the first one to name a price. If not, you can always make it clear that you didn’t expect it to be so high.
Rhodes said waiting for a number is part of the prioritization phase. “When you’re going through and you create a priority (for) A, B, but I can live without C, D, and E, you make sure that they’re aware that when you’re asking something. Take something else off the table to show that you are giving. Give and take . . . puts them in a better head space.” Removing something that benefits the other party can get a better price without giving up what you need. It all goes back to your objectives. If you have bargaining chips that you can live without, you can use it to get a great price.
Sometimes when negotiating prices, you’ll reach a standstill. In that type of situation, Rhodes recommended coming back to the conversation later. “When you’re at a sticking point in a negotiation, the way to make it . . . move forward is you really need to take focus off of that, move to something else, and then come back,” he said. “When you move away from that for a couple of minutes, people . . . come back, and they reevaluate it, everyone has more of a fresh set. So, you make sure that you’re not stuck looking at the same situation and just holding on that. Sometimes, (all) it takes to just move past it for a day. You can do other things or even just do a break for lunch or a break for the day and then pick it back up in the morning, but . . . you’ll notice that people will react different after they’ve had time to process it and think more about it and talk to their peers.”
Recognizing if You Can Trust the Other Party
One caveat to business negotiations is that there are some people and companies that you shouldn’t do business with. Similar to an interview, you should be trying to see if you want to engage in a business relationship or contact with the other party. In business negotiations, you can notice signs to help you figure it out.
“When it comes to establishing trust, it’s as much of a feeling as it is words that they’re saying,” Rhodes said. “First, obviously, you read up on them, and you ask them questions. When you’re establishing trust with your candidate or a vendor, and they’re willing to give you references right up front, you instantly know that they have nothing to hide.”
Rhodes also pointed to deciphering how they see you. You can tell you’re engaging with a worthwhile party when they approach you “more like a friend than they do looking at you as just money in their pocket,” he explained. “Usually, the group you’re dealing with, they’re in some form of sales, so they’re looking at you that you are guaranteed money for them if they can close the deal.” Rhodes said the best negotiations usually stem from other parties who are interested in your goals and “and answer other questions and can actually be an ally versus just someone who’s focused on the negotiation . . . someone who’s willing to go above and beyond.”
Enhancing Persuasive Communication in Business
Another side to persuasive communication in business is improving your skills. After all, you can utilize several techniques and tactics in business negotiations, but it can take time to hone and perfect those abilities. How do you get better?
“First of all, you practice,” Rhodes said. “You practice the skills with people around you . . . When you’re working to purchase a car, when you’re working at negotiating for a house, things along those lines. You take all of those skills that you have built up, and you take it (with you) when you’re asking for a raise or a promotion. You need to use all of these skills and look at things more as a negotiation.”
Taking those types of opportunities gives you a way to practice and perfect your business negotiation skills. You might be surprised how often you’ll have the opportunity to grow. “It’s not just the leadership roles that involve negotiation,” according to Rhodes. Even entry-level roles in IT and business involve negotiations, such as speaking with managers about the best software for the company or how to optimize sales of a product.
“You just need to make sure that you’re taking all of the little situations that you’re in and just kind of honing in and trying new things and figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t,” Rhodes said. “Because what works for me of being direct and blunt . . . is different than what’s going to work for someone else. You need to make sure that you understand your personality and what you can do. It’s really a lot of self-evaluation and then taking that and being able to transfer it into the role of how you’re going . . . to talk to someone else.”
One of the best ways to improve your business negotiation skills is to learn them formally. An online MBA lets you engage in real-world business situations, where you’ll enhance your knowledge and skills in communication, marketing, organizational behavior, leadership, finance, accounting, and more. In a fully online learning environment, you can complete your MBA in as little as one year at Aurora University Online. No GMAT or GRE scores are required.
If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you can earn an online bachelor’s in business administration to help you reach your career goals. This program is designed for busy, working adults who have life experience in business. Graduates hold management positions in fields such as manufacturing, financial services, health care, and government enterprises.
Both programs from AU Online feature instruction from faculty members who have real-world experience.