How to Prepare Yourself for Negotiation

By Consumer Dummies

You are the most important single element in this negotiation. Even if you are the most junior person in the room, your performance at the negotiation is more important to you and your future than any agenda or seating arrangement.

Do not shortchange yourself. Keep your confidence up. This just may be the moment that helps you climb the executive ladder. Take a moment to check on yourself, leaving other arrangements for later. This concern for self is an important investment that pays off handsomely. This is your moment to shine (even if you must shine in silence).

A is for alert

To negotiate at your best, you must be well rested and alert. If the negotiation is early in the morning, make sure you eat breakfast. If you feel stressed, do an early-morning workout or meditate. A well-rested and stress-free mind is an alert mind. And when you are alert

  • Your concentration and ability to listen improve.
  • You’re more likely to be quick-witted and able to respond to questions or attacks.
  • You won’t rush to tie things up so you can get home or get to bed.

Your performance at any negotiation is aided by a good night’s sleep. Sometimes getting that sleep is easier said than done. If you find yourself thinking about a negotiation just when you want to go to sleep, try this trick: Pull out a pad and jot down your thoughts. Keep going until you’ve cleaned out your mind. More often than not, this simple exercise enables you to doze off and secure some much-needed sleep. If you still can’t get to sleep after writing down your thoughts, at least you have a crib sheet to help your sleep-deprived mind get through the negotiating session.

Dressing for success

During the 1980s, two books had considerable effect on what people wore to get power and respect. These books, geared toward the professional, have a much wider application if you read between the lines. The first book, Dress for Success (P.H. Wyden) by John T. Molloy, chauvinistically addressed only men. The book’s popularity led to a sequel, The Woman’s Dress for Success Book (Warner Books). Both are valuable, if dated, aids for young executives. The theory of both books is to look like the boss.

The startling response to Molloy’s books was that, all through the 1980s, droves of young female professionals began wearing dark blue suits, white silk blouses, and big red bows at the neck. Perhaps they were helping themselves up the ladder of success, but the necessity (or perceived necessity) for ambitious young women to transform their appearance to break into the good old boys’ club is distressing.

Today, dress styles in the workplace vary widely depending on the type of business. In the entertainment industry, for instance, dress styles are more casual. Visit any animation studio and you will see folks dressed as if they were attending an afternoon barbeque. Clothing styles for the workplace continue to evolve. Some companies still require business attire; others don’t. The point is to dress for the occasion. If you’re attending an important meeting, you want to look your best to be taken seriously and to be respected.

A writer came into Jill’s office to pitch a story idea. He wore a T-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops. Jill’s immediate impression was one of laziness. She assumed that his pitch would be as jumbled as his attire — and she was right. The pitch wasn’t well thought out. It was carefree and meandering. This is not the impression you want to give the next time you approach the negotiation table.

Don’t dress to distract. You are in a negotiation. You want people to listen, and you need their eyes as well as their ears. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Women, you pull the eye away from your face if you wear dangling earrings or expose cleavage.
  • Men, you improve no business environment anywhere with gold chains or a sport shirt open to reveal that remarkable chest.

If a particular type of outfit works for you on vacation or at a party, more power to you. But don’t confuse those casual social environments (which may include a bit of negotiating in the course of an evening) with the negotiating environment of the business world.

Of course, every rule has an exception. See the film Erin Brockovich for such an example. In the film, Erin, played by Julia Roberts, is hired as a secretary at a small law firm. She dresses in short skirts, revealing blouses, and stiletto heels. Her co-workers don’t take her seriously. Little do they know Erin is extremely driven and smart.

Her wardrobe becomes second nature as the film progresses. She begins to investigate a suspicious real estate case involving Pacific Gas & Electric Company, which leads her to become the point person in one of the biggest class action lawsuits in American history against a multibillion dollar corporation. All this despite her risqué wardrobe.

Mirror your environment as you prepare yourself for your first negotiating session. For example, don’t wear a three-piece suit to a place where all the employees, including the executives, wear jeans and polo shirts to work. Respectfully absorb that which is around you. Become a part of the surroundings.

Some negotiators take this tip beyond the way they dress. For instance, some negotiators even adapt to the pace of the speech. In New York, where people tend to talk fast, good negotiators speed up their pace a bit; in the South, where people tend to talk slowly, good negotiators slow it down a few notches. Above all, know that good manners are different from place to place.

Walking through the door

No matter how sleep-deprived, harried, or down-in-the-dumps you may be, always enter the negotiating room with assertiveness. Establish confidence and control from the opening moment. That moment sets a tone for the entire meeting. This fact is true even if you are not officially in charge of the meeting. These guidelines can vault the most junior person at a meeting to MVP status almost immediately.

Never forget the pleasantries. If the last negotiating session ended on a bad note, clear that away first. Otherwise, you run the risk that unrelated matters may ignite the controversy all over again. If you can resolve the situation up front, you can move forward unfettered. Ignoring such a situation just leaves the ill-will hovering over the negotiating table. The bad feelings creep into and influence every conversation. The negativity taints all the proceedings until it has been cleared away.

As your hand is on the door of the negotiating room or as you dial the phone number of your counterpart, put on your attitude. Take a beat and lift yourself up to the occasion. Grandmother was right — “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” Toss your head back — literally. Smile, inside and out. Focus on your immediate purposes. Have your right hand free to shake hands with whoever is there. If the meeting requires you to wear one of those awful name badges, be sure to write your name in large letters and place the badge high on your right side so people can easily read it.

Improving your attitude just before the session begins can be one of the most valuable moments you spend in a negotiation.

Here are some tips in case you’re in charge of the meeting:

  • Make sure that all participants are present and ready to listen. If someone is missing, you face the first dilemma of a meeting leader: to start or not to start the meeting. Follow your gut and the culture in which you’re operating. If you are always prompt and have a roomful of folks whose time is valuable (whose isn’t?), proceed and educate the laggard later. If the missing person is the boss, well, again, the culture is important. Some bosses would be annoyed that you held up the meeting for them.
  • State your purpose for having the meeting. This is like the opening paragraph of a term paper. If there is not a written agenda, outline the important points you will discuss. Knowing what is going to happen helps keep everyone focused.
  • If there is a written agenda, be sure everyone has one and take a moment to review it. Put time restraints on each agenda item. Doing so keeps you from lingering on a subject longer than expected and not giving enough time to others.
  • Make a clear request for agreement on the agenda and the procedure. Gauge how the other party feels about your agenda. This is an important step on the road to closing a deal and is your chance to start things off with something on which everyone is in agreement.
  • Acknowledge the participants’ attitudes and feelings as they relate to your purpose. Your objective is to close the deal. To do this, you need to establish empathy from the beginning of the meeting.
  • Begin according to the agenda. If you must deviate from your plan at the beginning of the meeting, you’ll have a hard time gaining control later.

You’ve opened the meeting and presented your agenda. You’ve taken the first step into the negotiation process. Breathe.

Leaving enough time

Deciding how much time to allocate for a negotiation session or for the entire negotiation is always a tricky matter because you aren’t in control of the other side. If you want to have the negotiation over by a certain time, say so right up front. If a good reason exists for your desire, state that also. Leaving more time than you actually need for a negotiating session is always better than allocating too little time. If you’ve overestimated the time, you can always use the extra time for something else.