Flex Those Negotiation Muscles!
How many times have you heard the phrase, “Practice makes perfect”? So many times that it probably still reminds you of those dreaded clarinet lessons in fifth grade. However, the fact remains that the phrase is, sadly, true. Practicing anything will make you better at that thing….and negotiating skills are one of the things that all sales professionals should be practicing regularly.
Practice the art of conversation - Make no mistake; social conversation is truly an art form and requires practice and honing. I cannot stress this enough. A relaxed, chatty (but not too chatty) sales talent sends a much better subconscious message than a quiet sales pro who struggles in trying to fill those uncomfortably long silences. Being able to converse easily and effortlessly sends the message, ‘I know what I’m doing and I’m comfortable in this scenario’. Think of yourself as the Host, and your client as the Guest; it is always the host’s job to make sure their guest is comfortable, relaxed and entertained. The closer you get to closing your deal, the more important it is to continue to project a relaxed and confident persona. How did that cheesy commercial put it? “Never let them see you sweat”. The art of conversation can take you a long way in this neighborhood. Negotiations that are peppered with simple conversation feel less stressful, more personal, and more familiar. These are all positive emotional queues that will help slant the situation in your favor. File away in your mind a few choice anecdotal stories that are appropriate for a business setting and always get a chuckle. Think of these stories as a verbal rolodex you can choose from. Just make sure you don’t let anyone hear the same story twice! Practice conversation with strangers in line somewhere. Look for someone at the coffee house who seems to be having a bad day- strike up a conversation with that person and try to make them smile. Practicing conversation has the added bonus of simultaneously helping you with your eye contact.
Experiment with verbal responses - In one conversation, agree with everything someone says. In another, disagree with everything someone says. What was the effect in each case? How comfortable were you with only agreeing and only disagreeing? Did your posture, attitude or tone of voice change in one or the other situation? At what point did the other person catch on that you had a one-track response? Did they catch on at all? What was their reaction? What if that person were a client? Would you have boosted or destroyed your credibility in either situation? A strong negotiator has studied and understands the point at which the tables turn in either of these extremes- negotiation is, after all, a game of push and pull, no?
Learn something new every day - My 90 year old grandmother who still takes classes at the local college has been telling me this my entire life. And it’s true! There is a plethora of books on negotiation skills, closing tricks, tools to counter resistance…anything you could possibly think of has had a book devoted to the topic. What skill do you need to strengthen in your selling repertoire? Find a book about it, preferably one that includes exercises you can practice, and learn something! Even a seasoned senior sales exec can learn a thing or two.
Practice your listening skills - It took me years to figure out that “listening” wasn’t the same things as “waiting for my turn to talk”. Sound familiar? But listening is a skill that bears practicing, DAILY. Practice listening actively at least twice a day; don’t interrupt, don’t finish sentences, don’t judge, don’t think of what you’re going to say next, don’t start thinking about the sushi dinner that you’ve been looking forward to all day… just hear the person you’re practicing on. At the end of each day, recall these conversations and go over what you remember about what you heard. You might be surprised to find that for the first couple weeks you don’t remember much about what you heard. That just means you need to practice more….
Practice demanding something with a low, controlled, pleasant voice - My girlfriend is the master (uh…mistress) of this technique, and let me tell you; she always gets what she asks for! When making a demand (of a customer service rep, of a client or vendor in negotiation, when returning a purchased item…) there is absolutely no need to raise your voice or carry on like a ninny. That technique is more likely to push away the very person you are trying to win over. Instead, try this- speaking in a low voice, and speaking much slower than you normally do, tell whomever you’re speaking to exactly what it is you expect them to do for you or give you. When talking lean in close to them, smile juuuust slightly and do not break eye contact. Scares the hell out of people, but does not allow them to accuse you of being rude or obnoxious. This one works! It even works when you’re bluffing. You would be amazed at what you can get just by asking the right way. Seriously, practice this and perfect it.
Think of practicing your negotiation skills as a more cerebral component of your daily work-out; if you stick with it you will see results, you will feel better about yourself and therefore project a more confident image, and you will have added some solid tools to your bag of tricks. That’s a win-win in my book.