Some days, every conversation feels like a negotiation. Some people thrive on that type of exchange. For others, it’s exhausting. Regardless of whether you enjoy negotiating, you have to participate in the discussion if you want to get something done. I thought it might be helpful to share a few pointers that will help you in the next conversation, whether you’re buying a car, asking for a raise, or trying to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. When you’re negotiating, you should keep in mind three key ideas. First, know what you want; second, ask questions to understand the other person’s needs; and third, use conditional statements.
1. Know What You Want
This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people enter a negotiation with only a vague idea of what they’re seeking. You have to strategize beforehand. What price points are important to you? What secondary elements are you trying to achieve through the discussion? Put limits in place: an opening offer, an anticipated outcome, your walkaway position. Without putting these parameters in place, the conversation is likely to become far too freewheeling. And you’re unlikely to get the outcomes that meet your needs.
This strategizing is especially important if your personal tendency is to “shoot from the hip.” Being flexible and creative are important in business and thinking on your feet is a valuable talent when participating in a brainstorming meeting or responding to a tough question during a presentation. However, in a negotiation, there will be a defined outcome at the end of the discussion that you and your organization will need to live with, possibly for a long time. This isn’t the time to “wing it.” Your ability to respond to unexpected information or surprise approaches from the other negotiator is enhanced if you’ve clarified your strategy.
2. Ask Questions
When you’re negotiating, you’re trying to get what you need from someone else. The only way to get what you want from someone else is to give them what they need. The only way to understand what they need is to ask them, and then truly, deeply listen. If you assume what the other negotiator needs, and you miss the mark, the conversation will become frustrating and futile. Asking the right questions and digging deeper to understand the other negotiator’s needs are crucial tools to help you become a more effective negotiator.
This requires thinking of the other party in the discussion as simply the “other negotiator.” Most of the time, the other negotiator isn’t “the enemy,” they’re just another party that needs to get something constructive out of the exchange. Figuring out what the other person needs rather than assuming what they want may allow you to accomplish your goal at a lower cost to you.
3. Use Conditional Language
If I say, “I’ll come up 5%,” or, “I’ll add ‘X’ to the mix,” I’ve given up something without getting anything in return. Instead, say, “If I were to come up 5%, what would you be able to add to your offer?” or, “If we add ‘X’ to the mix, how could that impact your position?” Using conditional language allows you to float an offer, rather than commit to a position. Ultimately, you only give something if you get something in return.
Negotiations are often subtle dances around delicate issues. Egos and emotions are frequently in play. For many people, feeling like they are getting a good deal is as important as actually getting a good deal. If I say to you, “I’ll throw in ‘X’ for no additional cost,” how does that make you feel about the value of X? You may not feel like you’ve gained anything because it clearly didn’t have any value to me. If you “throw in” anything, you risk throwing away its value.
Try these 3 tips in your next negotiation and see how you fare.
Originally published on Forbes.com.