Four tips for negating negotiation debt

I once used to work with a chap who was a consummate salesman. Everyone’s best friend, he knew people all over the country; all over the world in fact. No matter what the problem was, he ‘knew a guy’ who could help fix it. This colleague would come out of the boss’s office with an assignment, tell us it was impossible and by the end of the week, come back with something even better; the original deal and ‘a bit extra’.

Earlier this year, I was talking to a tradesman who asked where I was from, told me about a cousin he had in Italy (I’m half Italian) and even came from my home city of Nottingham. I began to feel slightly stressed by the conversation; I could see where it was leading; next thing I knew, BAM! I was being offered some outrageous quote for something I didn’t even want.

Like my old colleague, I felt a slightly alarming feeling that I was being played – in both relationships, I was having an interaction which built a perceived ‘debt’ with the other party. The conversations I had with them usually left me feeling like we had lots in common, that they had my back, that they were offering my something valuable which I couldn’t possibly repay them for.

  1. Do your research first. I set a time limit when I walk into a negotiation where I only allow myself to discuss what I need and how the supplier can provide it. I don’t let the conversation meander; I actively explain what I need, how much it might cost and ask for references. Unless it’s a truly exceptional deal (and I mean once every few years type deals), I never buy during the first meeting, no matter how insistent the person sat across from me is.
  2. Level the relationship playing field. As friendly as I am, as much as I enjoy building relationships, when I’m the one holding the buying power, I don’t necessarily want to be too open. Instead of talking about myself, I flip all the questions round on them – what about their life, their service, their hometown etc. When it becomes time to negotiate, you won’t feel like you owe them anything if you’re the one driving the ‘I’m here to help’ mentality.
  3. Express an interest in a range of products or servicse. If you show interest in a particular offering, you open the door to haggling. Likewise, picking all the flaws in a product is a pretty blunt technique which won’t work on more experienced negotiators, being more likely to simply damage a relationship. By expressing a general interest in a range of services, you’ll build rapport and make them work to get you to commit to a single option.
  4. Don’t be afraid to walk away. If the negotiating partner’s final offer doesn’t meet your requirements, just say no! Pursue one of the alternatives you researched earlier and try again.

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