How do you eat an elephant?
Piece by piece.
In my negotiation trainings I impart a variety of new tactical and psychological knowledge. But despite storytelling, simulation practice and didactic integration exercises, the absorbed knowledge still has to be consolidated. And that includes constant practice. Faced with a daunting task – an upcoming marathon, a complex negotiation, a difficult conflict or a company start-up – we often feel anxious, frozen and so we stop before we even begin.
Special units, such as the German combat swimmers, the English SAS, or the American SEALs, offer a solution: segmentation. Slowly divide the elephant into digestible parts and… Well, you got the idea. Accept your challenge step by step. Integrate the absorbed knowledge into everyday situations. These are the individual pieces.
You will see many ultra marathon runners and triathletes doing the same. They focus on the next immediate goal – the next fixed point on the horizon – and prevent their thoughts from being transferred to the whole challenge. An approach that even successful negotiators use in their training. If they wanted to learn and apply all 130 linguistic and operational tactics of the F.I.R.E. Business Negotiation System ® at once, they would despair. Divide the tactics you learn into immediate, bite-sized targets and focus on completing them one by one. Avoid looking at the big picture.
Leave the comfort zone
There is a common ground shared by all experienced and successful negotiators: They consciously make the decision to negotiate and put themselves out there in their daily lives. They are not afraid of negotiations and look everywhere for opportunities to improve themselves. They prefer to sweat during training rather than “bleed” in negotiation (of course only in a metaphorical sense). It may sound simple, but the decision to negotiate in everyday life situations requires leaving the comfort zone. If you decide to negotiate, you risk appearing comical or clumsy, regardless of your age, intelligence or level of experience. Choosing to negotiate also means choosing to be present, to focus your attention and to consciously respond to your environment and your counterpart. All this can be difficult if you feel tired or just don’t want to face another challenge.
However, if you overcome this inner “couch potato”, great advantages await you. Even if you don’t achieve 100% of what you set out to, you will sharpen the blade of your negotiation knowledge every time you practice. You will learn what your strategy is lacking of, understand how different negotiation techniques work (or don’t work) in different situations, learn how to deal with different personality styles and find out how to achieve ever greater flexibility to manage any negotiation situation. In addition, it will provide you a full pocket. Because nothing can win so much in such a short time as negotiations.
Buying clothes and electronics
I know what you’re thinking: you can’t just haggle over a suit, bag or smartphone like you do at the flea market. There are rules and standards, and some things are simply not open for negotiation. Besides, what should the salesperson think about us? That we can’t afford the product? That we want to be more than our wallets allow? That we’re stealing his/her time and he/she can’t give a discount anyway?
We feel dependent on our counterpart! And our thoughts intensify this dependence. Negotiations are won by the mind. Our own mindset influences our actions and our results. The decision to negotiate in a context that is not often associated with negotiation requires additional courage and willpower – especially if you ignore the notion that negotiations are “only” used for exceptional problems and conflicts.
The turnover is important for the seller. And therefore he or she needs you. This is why he has a high interest in closing a deal with you. And this results in positive news: He or she also feels dependent on you!
With this in mind, you can negotiate everything: discounts, discounts on more than one product, free tailoring changes, additional equipment (e.g. tie, belt, handkerchief for clothing; software, charging cables, headphones for electronics).
In everyday scenarios, remember that the basis of any negotiation is effective communication, tactical empathy and emotional intelligence. That is what is generally important regardless of the situation. As you approach a negotiation from the perspective of relationship building, you will find that it is much easier to make authentic connections, build trust, and influence behavior in an organic way.
Airports offer a wide range of opportunities to negotiate. You can negotiate a better place on the plane as well as an upgrade, an extra piece of luggage, or what you can take on board. Thanks to the large number of shops at airports, waiting times can become improvement times. You can shop and train your negotiation skills at the same time. The opportunity to get more of what you want is available at every terminal.
When it comes to air travel, most of us are used to opting for less. Airport staff is used to emotionally charged confrontations, and passengers know how to receive bureaucratic rejections. Most of us are aware of these dynamics, but we do not use this information to adapt our strategy or gain influence. Before contacting an airline representative, consider these unspoken expectations and use them to anticipate your counterpart’s reaction and understand their perspective. Airports are the ideal places to practice building relationships quickly and to overcome negative perceptions.
In addition, travelling is inherently exhausting – not only for the passengers, but also for the people who have to deal with the emotional side effects of these passengers on a daily basis. This hypersensitive environment offers the perfect opportunity to become aware of its effects, to practice self-regulation and tactical empathy.
Negotiating with family and colleagues
A gigantic environment to train negotiation skills is the narrow social environment. If you ever said “because I said so,” you missed an important opportunity to get what you want. Many parents fight regularly with their children at the end of a conflict of interest because they try to enforce a solution their child does not want to accept. Negotiating with children is a great opportunity to increase one’s share of the negotiation cake and at the same time improve the level of the relationship.
Focus on creating a collaborative environment and discover what your child values more than you. If you are faced with the task that bedtime is at 9 p.m., then you can work out which temporal topic is more important for your child by listening carefully: If, for example, it is the extension of screen time, the deal may be to exchange 15 more minutes of playtime per day for bedtime at 20.30 along with brushed teeth. A business that satisfies both parties and also strengthens the relationship. Especially if you have used the different levels of exact listening.
Do not only practice negotiating with your children, but also becoming a more effective listener and communicator.
You can also train a variety of negotiation tactics with your partner. By educating them about the skills you want to use, you encourage them to challenge you and enable them to provide more insightful and feasible feedback.
Last but not least, don’t forget the people with whom you spend 40 hours a week. Whatever your professional goals and responsibilities are, there is a high probability that you will need your colleagues in order to do your job or to motivate you to excel. Any interaction in which you try to influence another person’s behavior is a negotiation. The key to continuous growth is to recognize this opportunity and consciously use it. The key is to know what you want to achieve, to free yourself from assumptions and to become an accurate listener.
The best thing about negotiating with colleagues and family is that you have unlimited opportunities for improvement. Your first attempt may not have achieved the desired result – use this feedback to optimize your strategy next time.
We can use many everyday situations to sharpen and improve our negotiation skills. If you attend lectures, receive professional training, read books and articles about negotiations or attend our seminars, you will get the basis that will improve your knowledge. But if you want to turn that knowledge into an ability, you have to practice it.
Learning to negotiate also means changing behaviour and leaving the comfort zone. To eat the big elephant bit by bit. And for that, repetition is the key. Not everything will be a success immediately. Failure also produces growth. If you screw it up, your heart rate increases and activates what psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman calls “slow thinking” – the kind of thought that requires conscious effort and gradual processing. These high-reflection moments accelerate learning and anchor information in the cerebral cortex. In addition, the everyday exercises will make your negotiation skills and techniques a second nature. In negotiations, your brain will show an increase in perception, responsiveness, stress resistance and flexibility. And as a negotiator, you will construct your negotiation in a more confident way.
In addition to the examples above, there are countless ways to improve your negotiation skills in everyday life. The people who make the conscious decision to try out the skills they have learned and see how far they get are also the ones who perform better in professional negotiations, where a high level of commitment is combined with higher stress. They learn more quickly and internalize information more thoroughly because they have failed. Set out to become a better negotiator every day. Accept your challenge step by step. Integrate the absorbed knowledge into everyday situations.
Piece by piece.