Ben RichardsonToday’s post is written by Ben Richardson. Ben is an ex-investment banker and venture capitalist. Most recently he ran the new investment team for MMC Ventures in London. He now combines freelancing for start-ups and early-stage companies with running Acuity Training which is focused on offering high-quality management and IT training.  

“You don’t get what you want. You get what you negotiate.” Harvey Mackay

The subtle art of negotiating without negotiating is a tough discipline! Much of a negotiation is completed before either party ever sits down to actually formally negotiate.

Having recently written a guide to assertiveness and negotiation for freelancers in this article I will share some of the most subtle ways that you can position yourself before a negotiation.

The Subtle Art Of Negotiating Without Negotiating

Image Source: Pixabay

Usually, the power dynamics between the two sides are already established by the time a negotiation starts and they will, in large part, determine the outcome.

As an example, where you negotiate can change the outcome substantially. This study shows that negotiating at your office can mean that you walk away with 160% of what the ‘visiting’ party will walk away with.

The authors concluded this was mainly down to ‘home turf’ advantage meaning these negotiators felt relaxed and confident before they started the negotiation.

So how do you make sure that you come to a negotiation with the equivalent of ‘home turf’ advantage and position yourself in the best possible way before you even start?

At heart, you need to convince the other party that you don’t need a deal that much. You may want it but you don’t need it.

The principle of least interest says that whoever cares the least in a relationship generally has the most power.

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Initially, it was discovered by Walter Willard, when he was researching interpersonal relationships but the principle applies equally to professional relationships.

So at heart, you need to convince your counterparty that you care but not that much. Let’s look at some of the subtle ways that you can do that.

Some of these tips will appear very ‘small’. Remember at the start of a relationship people have very little information to form a judgment on. Given that they will be forming a judgment nonetheless, this means those very small items can be extrapolated to create large changes in their view.

1. Communication

Everyone is busy so if someone always replies to your emails very quickly you know that that email is a high priority for them. Equally, if someone always takes your phone calls you know that you are a priority for them. Especially if they take your calls at awkward moments, for example, when they are in another meeting.

These sorts of behaviors are telling the other party that they are your top priority. Before a negotiation, this is not a good idea.

You should always be professional and respond promptly, of course, but don’t give up your position.

If someone calls you and it’s not convenient, let it go to voicemail. Perhaps do this occasionally even if it would be convenient to answer. Call them back the following morning. If they email you, reply the following morning or late that afternoon.

There is no rule that says you have to pick up a phone call or reply to an email instantly.

2. Meetings

If you’re busy with lots of different things then people will assume that you don’t need a new deal that much.

Don’t be too available for meetings. Don’t make this deal look like too much of a priority.

An empty calendar implies that you aren’t that busy. When people ask for times that you are available to meet them avoid offering them too many.

Only offer them a sensible number of windows of time even if you could offer them more. You could also put some requirements around some of the times, saying, for example, that you could meet at a particular time but only if the meeting is held at a location convenient for your other meetings.

Again you are conveying to the other party that you are busy and successful and so don’t need another deal all that much.

3. Language & Tone

Many studies conclude that how you say something is more important than what you say. So take care with your choice of words and the tone in which you say them in initial meetings and calls.

Conveying confidence will help with any negotiation that is coming up.

This study showed that the words used to make a request made a big difference. People expressing requests neutrally got the best deal followed by those expressing worry or disappointment and finally those people expressing guilt about their requests receive the worst deals. So when asking for something avoid at all costs starting with:

‘I hate to ask this but….’

‘I’m sorry to ask but…’

‘I hate to trouble you ……’

although this may feel polite you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Equally, the tone of voice that you use will make a big difference to how your request is viewed. This is more difficult to alter but also arguably has an even greater impact than the words you choose

Try to keep your voice low, again it signals confidence. High-pitched voices and ending sentences with a high pitch sound questioning and unsure. Precisely not how you want the other side to view you going into a negotiation.

Although it’s off-topic for this article one great voice tip for during a negotiation is to raise your voice noticeably but for only one sentence if you want a point to be clearly heard. It emphasizes that point very clearly and demonstrates emotion but in a very controlled way.

4. Body Language

Body language not only communicates to the other side but also to your own body.

Strong confident body language will communicate to the other party that you are relaxed and not nervous. This says that you don’t need a deal that much as you’re not that worried about it.

Strong confident body language will also communicate with your own body that you are feeling confident and relaxed. Recent research has shown that by holding a ‘power pose’ for 2 minutes you can actually change your physiology. You will increase your levels of testosterone (confidence hormone) and reduce your levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and so this becomes self-fulfilling.

At heart, confident body language entails taking up space.

Confident people are open (shoulders back), relaxed (smile, make eye contact, don’t fidget) and so tend to take up space (stand with legs apart, use their hands when speaking and don’t cross their arms).

So there you have it. The subtle art of negotiating without negotiating by showing that although you’d like a deal you don’t need one.

How by appearing relaxed, confident and busy you’ll make sure that before you even sit down to a negotiation you ensure that the other side isn’t feeling that you even particularly need to do a deal, and so the terms on which you will do one.

Oh and don’t forget, if you can get them to come to your office for the actual negotiation that will help a great deal as well!