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Lisa Earle McLeod: A time to negotiate, and not to

“You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.”

That was the marketing tag line for a popular 1980s negotiating skills program. Personally, I find this concept absolutely exhausting. Do you really want to game every aspect of daily life?

I teach negotiation skills and coach clients in negotiations. After 20 years of doing so, I’ve learned that there is a time to negotiate. But if you approach every situation with an eye to what you can get, you don’t emerge the winner.

Research from thought leaders such as Adam Grant, author of the groundbreaking “Give and Take,” reveals that hardball tactics often do more harm than good, to your reputation and your pocketbook. A negotiating mentality can have a chilling effect on your happiness, as well.

Here are five counterintuitive tips to be a happier, more joyful and more successful negotiator:

Pay the asking price often – If it’s a low value dollar item, don’t haggle. Place a value on your own time; arguing over $2 isn’t worth the mental effort. When you haggle over everything, defensiveness and aggressiveness become habits that spill over into the rest of your life.

Don’t start with money – One of our clients was a hard-charging chief financial officer. Her high school son came to her to talk about why he might prefer a small private college, instead of the big state (i.e., cheaper) school. Her first response was, “I’m going to need to see (a return on investment) on that.” A better first response would have been, “Tell me more.” It would have prompted a deeper parent-child conversation. When you make money your first go-to, it’s unlikely that people will open their hearts to you.

Ensure that the other party makes a healthy profit – A large client of ours consistently played hardball with their vendors. They thought that they were getting good deals. What they really got was grudgingly poor service from vendors whose razor thin margins ensured that they put their lowest level, cheapest people on the project. The consequence was costly missed deadlines, rework and poor performance.

We trained their team to start asking, “Are you making enough money to put your best people on our project?” The result was better partnerships with vendors who created major cost savings over an 18-month period. Not to mention fewer headaches for all concerned.

Ask for additional service instead of a lower price – When the other party has decent margins, it’s all right to ask for additional services. My husband and I recently bought a boat from a dealer. Instead of trying to get a lower price, we asked them to detail the boat, and include a storage package. We walked away happier, and they have a long-term customer. It’s now a relationship instead of a single transaction.

If there’s a comma in the price, think about your endgame – When you’re paying a lot of money, it pays to take your time. Think about what you really want. Is it a great price or something bigger? When we sold our house, the buyers asked for last-minute concessions. It’s a common tactic; you know that the seller is counting on closing the deal, so at the eleventh hour, you ask for more.

The buyers got our furniture and fish tank at no financial cost to them. But they also got new neighbors (our friend whom we had confided) who distrusted their motives before they even said hello because they knew that the buyers had pressured us into leaving our daughter’s fish and our favorite sofa behind.

The lesson? People who try to negotiate everything really do get what they deserve.

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