5 Fast Ways to Become a World Class Negotiator Today

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Last week, my phone stopped working.

Well, it stopped calling. Everything seemed to be perfect, but it just wouldn’t make the outside connection to call or text someone. I needed a new phone.

I headed to AT&T and after an hour of them fiddling with buttons, transferring data, and poking plastic they determined … that I needed a new phone.

It was under warranty and they had my phone in stock, but I was told that they still had to place an order for a new phone. It would be delivered to my house and then I could return my old one. They estimated the process would take between one and two weeks.

The whole exchange process seemed unnecessary to me. A perfectly good replacement was sitting an arm’s reach away. Wouldn’t it just save everyone some time, money, and work if we exchanged it right there?

Five minutes later, I walked out with a shiny new phone — but I had to negotiate to make it happen.

Now, I’m not claiming to be the world’s greatest negotiator … and it wasn’t like I was facing a seasoned veteran in this showdown.

But that’s the funny thing about negotiation — it usually happens during a simple everyday conversation with people you meet in normal circumstances. If you can quickly master a few techniques then you can become a better negotiator than 99% of people, who seem to consistently ignore these opportunities.

With that said, here are five fast ways to become a world class negotiator.

1. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. You’re probably not The Godfather … and that’s fine.

You don’t need to put on a stone cold persona when it comes time to negotiate. If you’re quiet and thoughtful, then you don’t need to be loud and demanding. If you’re animated and emotional, then you don’t need to talk low and slow.

It’s more important act like yourself than it is to act like a negotiator.

If you put on a strange tone, then it’s going to make everyone feel awkward. Furthermore, most negotiations happen before the other side even knows they are negotiating.

Being as comfortable as possible and holding a conversation that keeps everyone at ease is the first step to negotiating well in everyday situations.

2. Ask for information, not favors. Most people think that negotiation is about demanding a result or asking for an exception or a discount. Sure, you need to get to that eventually, but the other side will actually do it for you a lot of the time.

Start by asking questions. Simply get more information.

When I was negotiating for my new cell phone, I asked:

  • Why do you have to ship the old phone back separately? (They use a third party to process returns.)
  • Why can’t we just exchange it in store? (Once again, sir, we use a third party to process returns.)
  • What information does the third party need? (Paperwork processed, old phones, etc.)
  • How long does this exchange usually take? (One to two weeks.)

And then — even though it seemed like they had given me all the information I needed — I said, “Ok, I want us to work out a solution. Help me understand the process for returning a broken phone.”

And then they went through it all again.

During this whole back and forth, I never once asked for them to make an exception. I never demanded that the situation be taken care of or requested a favor. I didn’t complain that I had already waited in the store for an hour.

My tone was more curious than confrontational. It was simply a normal conversation with me asking for more information.

When you approach negotiations in this way, it becomes apparent to the other side that you’re not going to go away easily — but you’re not being a serious pain in the neck either.

3. Be difficult by being helpful. Instead of dropping an ultimatum or making a strong request — both of which annoy the other side — spend some time trying to be helpful.

After I asked a few questions, here is what I said.

“Hmm… well I think there is a way we can make this easier for everyone. The return company needs three things, right? The old phone back. The new phone to be shipped. And the paperwork. What if I left the old phone here with you, then you gave me the new phone since it’s in stock, and we could file the paperwork for the return company?”

This request was actually ridiculous. The reason they hired the third party in the first place was so that AT&T stores wouldn’t have to process and ship old phones. And another company’s paperwork definitely isn’t available at your local cellphone store. But, it didn’t really matter. All I was trying to do was show that we were in this together and I was trying to help.

Sure, I was being more difficult than the normal customer, but I was also trying to be helpful.

It’s hard for the other side to get mad at someone when they just want to make it easier for everyone.

As a result, you’ll find that people often start looking for other solutions for you.

4. Whoever cares less has the power. It is important to realize that there is almost never a negotiation that will make or break your life.

When you think about the consequences of most conversations you have, you’ll realize that your life will go on just fine if you lose a negotiation. Of course, this is why most people never negotiate in the first place. (Why bother? Life goes on either way.)

But for the people who decide to negotiate, this attitude helps immensely.

If you don’t really care about the outcome, then you’re not emotionally tied to the conversation.

When you ask for information you’ll seem curious instead of offended. You’ll feel more comfortable making large requests — even if they are unreasonable. And you’ll be more willing to work with the other party instead of compete against them.

The trick is to continue to negotiate and hold your ground, while maintaining a carefree attitude. And that simply comes with practice.

Thanks to my persistence, the employee granted me a “one time exception” … even though I never directly asked for it. Even with my prolonged questioning, the whole conversation didn’t take more than two or three minutes. That’s a lot better than waiting two weeks for a replacement phone … but it wouldn’t have been a big deal to me if I had to wait.

5. Don’t take things personally. When you lose a negotiation (or any argument for that matter), it’s easy to feel upset, angry, or cheated.

Step back and breathe.

You’re not going to win every negotiation. If things don’t go your way, then simply move on to the next conversation.

Many factors in a negotiation are out of your control — maybe you catch someone at a bad time or maybe you talk to the wrong person. Even if you say all of the right things, it might not go your way.

You’ll never regret staying friendly and carefree, but you can be sure that there are a lot of people who wish they wouldn’t have taken things so seriously.

Improving your negotiation skills isn’t that hard. You can analyze all sorts of complex techniques, but if you master the five skills above then you’ll find yourself out–haggling all sorts of people.

Try it.

And remember that you’ve got nothing to lose.

8 Responses to 5 Fast Ways to Become a World Class Negotiator Today

  1. Caleb Wojcik says:

    This is great advice James. When I go into a situation that can be considered a negotiation I always approach with the fact that there is nothing to lose. The worse case is ending up exactly how things already are.

    I think most people are scared to negotiate because they don’t think it is their right as a consumer, customer, etc. I beg to differ. If you are paying for a product or service and you don’t agree with the cost or other factors, you have the freedom to take your business elsewhere.

    The product or service provider is the one that should be focused on being accommodating to you, not the other way around.

    • James Clear says:

      Totally agree, Caleb. Another great thing is that once you try it out with that mentality, you realize it’s not nearly as hard as you thought it would be.

  2. RoC says:

    Very good article. You always learn to negotiate the hard way, in which the win-win solution is very unlikely. I´m putting it into action from now on.

  3. Cheryl says:

    I always try to make the situation OUR problem and act as if I’m confident WE’LL work it out. I use the phrase, “What’re we gonna do about this?” or “How are we going to fix this?”.

  4. Hi James,

    This was really helpful for me because it put words and identifiers to things I do already, but never saw as negotiating. When I think of negotiations, I picture men in suits sitting around a glossy table with folders and briefcases against a metropolitan background through the windows. =)

    But I have noticed that when I’m confident and relaxed and willing to keep talking through alternatives, more often than not I get what I want. When I shrink and let in fear, I never win, and I walk away humiliated (like when I lost my job for speaking out against an abusive mgr).

    Relaxed, confident, friendly and helpful. Who can say no to that? =)


  5. Chris says:

    Really great post. Inspired me to re-evaluate my own negotiation skills and write up a post about it.

    I think there is definitely some overlap of information but some fundamental principles weren’t realised as clearly as they might have been.

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