By Noelle Munaretto
Let’s face it. In the words of Mick Jagger, you can’t always get what you want. Still, expert negotiators insist there’s no harm in trying.
While most negotiation strategies are conventionally applied to business cases, the art of negotiation can be used when making everyday purchases. After all, who doesn’t want a great deal? And, as students, the chances of getting cell phone plans, furniture or even apartments at discounted prices can only increase if you sharpen your negotiation skills.
But what exactly does it take to score cheaper prices, greater salaries and more productive relationships?
“You have to have the patience of Jove, the creativity of Pablo Picasso, the respect for fellow humans that Gandhi had, and the knowledge of the Encyclopedia Britannica,” said Allan Bonner, the president of Allan Bonner Communications, a group that specializes in negotiation and crisis management.
While mastering negotiation communication skills can be difficult, California-based negotiation expert Ed Brodow said that getting a good deal is relatively easy, providing you have the courage to ask — the first and most important step.
“You have to be willing to challenge things. People who ask for things usually get what they want,” said Brodow, who has written various books on how to become a better negotiator.
Most salespeople don’t expect customers to ask for discounts, but when they do they are actually 50 per cent more likely to give in to the price suggested by the customer. But it isn’t as easy as walking into a store and demanding cheaper prices.
Be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time discussing the product, talking over discount options and presenting offers.
Do your homework. Research the product that you want. If it’s a new MP3 player, check the selling prices at BestBuy, The Source, Future Shop and other retailers. Although you may be eyeing the latest gizmo to hit the market, you’re more likely to get a deal on products that are not in high demand.
Another important part of negotiation is establishing the value of the deal.
“There are two main things we tell our students. First, you need to be in a cooperative mindset to create a win-win situation and you have to create and increase the value of your deal. The second is that once you create that value, you need to take as much as you can for yourself,” said professor John Oesch, who teaches negotiation skills at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
He likens the situation to that of a pie. Your goal is to make the pie as large as possible, and then take the biggest slice. This allows both the negotiator and the person on the other side to increase their gains.
When both parties gain something out of a deal it’s a win-win situation, and you’re more likely to get a great discount if you aim for this outcome.
Oesch also warns not to take too big a slice. If you ask for a 15 per cent discount on a pair of shoes you’re more likely to get it than a 60 per cent discount.
“You should not present outrageous or unreasonable offers,” Oesch said. Another mistake a negotiator can make is letting the opposition affect his or her behaviour, he said.
In order to make the deal at the right time, Brodow suggests reading the physical and verbal clues from the salespeople.
“It’s important to watch the person’s body language. Are they folding their arms? Is their facial expression tight? Are they leaning forward in their chair which indicates they’re interested, or are they sitting back?” he said.
Getting a good deal is easier when you approach someone who is relaxed and willing to talk. As well, try to talk to the person who holds the most decision-making power. If a clerk isn’t willing to take $150 off a fridge, talk to the manager. If he runs the store he is more likely to accept your offer.
Another tip from Brodow is learning how to keep your cool. “Being patient is very important. And so is learning to keep your mouth shut,” Brodow said.
He advises negotiators stick to the ‘70/30 Rule.’ That means you should listen 70 per cent of the time and talk only 30 per cent of the time.
For young negotiators, Brodow recommends a technique he calls the ‘sob story.’ Let’s say you go to a furniture store and see an armchair you like for $500. He says the best way to get a deal is to tell the salesperson that you only have $300 in your pocket and that because you’re a poor student, it’s the only amount you are willing to pay.
But know when to draw the line. “You must have an ‘I quit’ position,” Bonner said. “At what point will you end those negotiations and walk away from a table and decide not to do a deal?”
Michael Gibson, creator of negotiation education website zap.ca, cautions people to go into a negotiation with the right attitude.
“You’re likely to be far more successful if you think about a negotiation as a conversation about a problem that needs to be solved jointly,” said Gibson.
“Whether you are negotiating with a parent, a roommate, a teacher, a sales clerk or a landlord, knowing more negotiation theories and techniques will definitely get you better results and improve your relationships at the same time,” he said.