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Why You Must Master Active Listening Skills

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Listening PictureEffective communication can be hard to achieve, and for many it takes lots of practice. Active listening is one of the key components of communication, especially in negotiations. To make the most of a negotiation, you must understand every party’s wants and needs. Here are some simple tips for becoming a better listener and improving your communication skills:

 

  1. Show Genuine Interest.

Everyone comes into a negotiation wanting something. It can be hard to show a genuine interest in another party’s needs, especially when you’re focused on getting what you want out of an interaction. However, in order for a negotiation to run smoothly, you must show an interest in how the other party is feeling. You can achieve this by emotion-labeling (i.e., acknowledging the other party’s emotions as they experience them) and paraphrasing their thoughts. This shows that you’re committed to a resolution that benefits them, as well as yourself.

  1. Ask Probing Questions.

Using open-ended questions helps the active listening process by understanding a client’s needs and wants. It also encourages the client to speak longer, which provides more insight and perspective into their side of the negotiation. This better positions you to effectively respond to their needs, while still getting what you want.

You can also facilitate this process by using “minimal encouragers.” These are statements like “okay,” “I see,” and “Go on.” While they may not seem like much, they go a long way in establishing a rapport, and it encourages the other party to keep speaking.

  1. Summarize.

Summarizing has a couple of different benefits. First, it wraps up everything the person said, which shows that you’ve been listening and acknowledges their wants and needs. This helps provide validation to your client. Secondly, it provides a “stalling” tactic as you formulate your response. It buys you extra time and helps you counter, beginning the process of negotiation.

Research shows that people spend 60% of a conversation speaking about themselves. This isn’t altogether surprising, as it’s a subject in which we’re comfortable. However, it doesn’t help you much in a negotiation, since you end up talking about what you want, instead of understanding your client’s needs and wants.

By letting your client talk about their needs and wants, you motivate them and provide them with encouragement. Active listening, once you achieve it, helps your client gain a positive impression of both you and your company. By practicing good listening techniques, you can become a more successful negotiator.

 

The Importance of Negotiation

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Technology advances rapidly in the business world. However, some things will always stay the same. The art of negotiation is as important a business skill as it ever has been. Why is negotiation important? Strong negotiation skills can be the difference between a beneficial compromise and a loss. There will always be conflicts in life, and the ability to solve them, particularly in the business world. That’s why negotiation is important in business —  it is what creates success. What are some important negotiation skills, and why are they so critical?

  • Confidence. Don’t be intimidated; bullies know how to get their way. The business world has its fair share of tyrants, as some people intimidate their way to success. Feeling intimidated means you’re already on your way to defeat. People can sense when you’re emotionally not up for the fight, and they take advantage of it.

In the business world, this can mean lost profits, promotions, and opportunities. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated during negotiation. If the other person appears more confident, understand it’s typically not because they deserve something more than you do; they’re just convinced they do. By bringing this conviction to the table, you can win a negotiation.

  • The importance of negotiation skills includes knowing when to walk away. Some battles are not worth fighting. When business decisions hang in the balance, it’s imperative to be willing to — and know when to — walk away. If someone is transparently trying to get their way with no concessions to you, it’s best to exit the negotiation.
  • Playing fair. In most negotiations, the goal is to be fair. If both parties can understand this and be sympathetic to the others’ needs, both stand to benefit far more. A competition for money or business resources isn’t a true negotiation. In any negotiation, each side has something to offer, and some things they can reasonably concede. Be open, fair, and honest, and you can gain the most from business negotiations.
  • People skills. More often than not, it’s not what you say – it’s how you say it. By presenting your case in the right light, you stand to gain much more from any negotiation. Approaching a negotiation nervously or aggressively gives the other party the upper hand. Be calm, civil, and direct. A good sense of humor and open demeanor, as well as being a good listener, go a long way to realize a successful negotiation.

The importance of negotiation skills cannot be overstated. That’s why, as a business skill, negotiation is here to stay. But by not only understanding why negotiation is important in business, and  prioritizing having good negotiators on your team, you create the perfect environment for business success. Remember, negotiation should be approached not as a competition, but as a compromise in which everyone leaves satisfied.

Overcoming Cultural Differences and International Negotiations

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US Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by Omani Foreign Minister Yussef bin Alawi upon arrival in Muscat on November 9, 2014.

Because of cultural differences, international negotiations require a little more finesse than most other negotiations.  Navigating these cultural differences with ease can affect the outcome of your negotiations, so anticipating some of the issues can be helpful.  Detailed below are some of the most commonly faced issues in international negotiations and how to deal with them when they arise.

Differences in Time Perception

Being on time for meetings is important in most cultures, but when it comes to how time is measured and spent, other cultures think differently than Americans. While we measure time in minutes and hours, treating our personal time like something we must make the most of, some other cultures are not in such a rush.

Middle Eastern cultures measure time by events and considering how long it takes to complete a task. Asian cultures see time as more flexible. In Japan, early meetings are held to get to know one another, and attempts to rush can be considered rude.

Regional Differences in Behavior

While it’s good to know general behavioral standards specific to a country, different regions of a country may have a specific set of social behaviors. In Muslim cultures, long handshakes are polite. In Italy, people often talk loudly and interrupt one another, while in the south of the country, it’s considered impolite to address a woman as “Miss.”

Customs and Etiquette during Meals

Parties will often share a meal during negotiations. Dining habits vary widely so it’s important to spend time researching customs and practicing behaviors that are important to demonstrating courtesy.

In Asia, it’s considered impolite to point with chopsticks, and leaving them straight up and down in your rice bowl is taboo. In some cultures only certain types of conversation are appropriate for mealtimes, and in others it’s impolite to talk at all.

Appropriate Dress

In most cases, a suit is the best choice to wear to negotiations. However, some people use their apparel to stand out to potential clients. Research customs so your choice of attire doesn’t end up offending the parties you hoped to impress.

Interpretation

Even people who speak English well often feel more comfortable negotiating in their native language. A skilled interpreter can help prevent misunderstandings and make everyone feel more comfortable. Check credentials and make sure you’re not just selecting someone who happens to be bilingual, but hiring a qualified interpreter who understands the complexities and nuances of both languages and cultures.

With careful research into international customs, you can prevent cultural misunderstandings. You also have the opportunity to bring your businesses to new parts of the globe and facilitate a new level of respect between international partners.

The Art of Renegotiation

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Despite our best efforts, sometimes we negotiate a bad deal. But is that the end of it? After you acknowledge your mistakes – and face the sinking feeling in your stomach – you can begin to seek opportunities for renegotiation. Here’s how to find more favorable terms.

Before A Deal Breaks Down

While no one wants to be involved in a deal gone bad, you can protect yourself before negotiations even begin by doing the following:

  • Building strong relationships. If the other party trusts you to consistently deliver what you promise, they are will be more likely to be flexible if you need to make changes.
  • Doing your research. Take the time to explore all related information to make it less likely your deal will be affected by unforeseen circumstances.
  • Writing nrenegotiation into contracts. Cover foreseeable circumstances in your contract and provide for a renegotiation process for specific events.
Understand What Triggers Renegotiation

Both buyers and sellers can reasonably expect to revisit terms when a contract is imperfect or the circumstances surrounding the deal change. Most buyers realize that even if you’ve signed a contract, no one can predict everything that can impact the transaction. For instance, if materials prices suddenly skyrocket, new technology makes your current offering obsolete, or a spike in energy costs dramatically increases production requirements, sometimes both parties must either walk away from the deal or come to new terms.

Ask if You Can Afford to Lose

Successful renegotiation often results only when negotiators speak from a position of strength. If you can’t afford to lose the deal if you’re unsuccessful in renegotiating it, your fear could very well undermine your confidence and even damage your credibility.

If you realize it would be better to lose the deal than honor the current terms, openly address the situation with the buyer and let them know you’re not happy with the terms to which you agreed. Ask if they’re willing to look at the numbers again and find a mutually beneficial solution.

Choose Positivity

When a deal goes bad, both sides feel stress, which can create hostility. If you become angry or defensive, your emotions will work against you. To guard against that possibility, look for ways to create value for the other side and create a problem-solving atmosphere. Invite everyone who participated in the original agreement to help find a solution. If meetings continue to be stressful and unproductive consider hiring a mediator to manage the process.

4 Negotiation Strategies that Destroy Deals

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People, whether they’re in marketing or manufacturing, generally enter a meeting with preconceived ideas and outside concerns that affect the way they listen. Salespeople can build relationships, or they can forever kill deals when they make some of the following mistakes.

Focus on Your Needs

It’s good to have goals, but, if all you’re thinking about is what you want out of the negotiation, your efforts are doomed to failure. Research your client so you know their needs and how your product or service can meet them. Realize they have lives outside of the meeting just like you do.

You must set aside what’s going on in your personal life, work pressure, and scheduling concerns to be mentally present. They have the same things warring in the back of their mind. Analyze how your presentation brings your customer value, makes them more effective, or enhances their current offerings.

Talk Too Much

You’re there to communicate about what you offer, but, if you do all the talking, it’s not a negotiation. Let your client know you’re listening by encouraging questions, then giving their concerns your full attention. Listen for clues to their interests or concerns.

Instead of using their statements to launch into the next part of your presentation, simply resay what they said back to them. Leave room for the customer to give you more information or share more about what they need.

Focus on Winning Instead of Collaborating

During negotiations, seek to partner with your client and not squeeze everything you can out of the deal. The first step is to present the value you bring to the table. The second step is to assign a dollar amount to that value.

Instead of just presenting the price of products and services, explain other benefits like warranty, maintenance, customization, or improved productivity. Know not just how the deal will make you money but how it will make the client money as well.

Rush to Close

There’s more to sales than delivering information and getting clients to sign on the dotted line. Timing is a critical element, where rushing clients to make a decision and waiting to follow up can both have disastrous results.

If a client isn’t ready to make a commitment, being pushy will alienate them. Protect the relationship by respecting their need for time and possibly more information. Regular follow-up that continually seeks to be helpful allows you to stay in contact and move them toward making a decision in line with your goals.

What Their Body Is Saying While Negotiating

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A negotiation begins before greetings or opening remarks – if you know what to look for. How each person carries his or her self, sits, and interacts with others can say more than all the words spoken during that meeting. Learning to read these signals gives insight into that person, information you can use to close the deal. From opened or closed postures to mimicry of motion, this negotiation training will show you how to bring that deal home.

Understanding Body Language

Albert Mehrabian, a renowned psychology professor at UCLA, concluded these three elements make up verbal communication:

  • Words
  • Voice tone
  • Nonverbal language

Mehrabian says each element accounts for a different percentage of the communication. Only 7% of what people say is verbal. Tone accounts for 38% of the meaning conveyed, and body language carries the other 55% of the message. The listener might say they accept what you’re telling them, but if their arms are crossed, they avoid eye contact and one leg is bouncing with impatience, their body language disagrees. Here are some of the ways the body transmits meaning.

Smiling

Smiling is a learned behavior. People smile because they’re being polite, because they’re nervous, or to mask uncertainty. A real smile goes all the way to the eyes, causing the corners to crinkle. If you suspect a smile is fake, ask for feedback. You shouldn’t fake smiling either, lest you appear untrustworthy.

Closed Body Language

During negotiations, if stakeholders cross their arms across their chest, it may indicate tension or resistance. It often means the person is not willing to be persuaded.

Fidgeting, Doodling or Slumping

At the beginning of your presentation, your audience was sitting up straight in their chairs with their eyes on you. If later you notice them moving restlessly in their chairs or shifting their focus to items on the table, they’re bored. Assess your delivery and find a way to reengage.

Mimicry

If you notice when you uncross your ankles, the person listening does the same, you know they feel a connection with what you’re saying. Nod to show agreement and you’ll notice they don’t just nod back, they actually feel agreement with what you’re saying. Mimicry is a natural behavior that improves negotiating success.

When reading body language, use common sense. Some people just have a hard time sitting still, others cross their arms when they’re cold. Look for groups of cues instead of just one at a time to read what your audience is feeling for more successful negotiations.

How to Handle Objections During Negotiations

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When prospects have objections during negotiations, it can cause your stress level to rise and make you feel as if you’re on the defensive. When you consider an objection as a positive step forward, however, it can change the dynamics of the entire negotiation. Think about an objection as a critical step toward reaching your goal.

The purpose of negotiating is to come to the point where both parties agree on the value of products or services. A negative response can be discouraging, but it may simply signify progress. It’s important to remember than an objection doesn’t mean the prospect won’t eventually commit. Keep your stress levels downs and consider how you can overcome objections to close the deal.

Prepare for Objections

Before you meet with your next prospect, spend some time reviewing past negotiation situations. Where did you feel you lost opportunities because you were unable to work through objections? Are there themes that stand out?

Think about the times you almost lost a sale but didn’t. What did you do in those situations? Use your observations to make a list of the objections you encounter most often and create responses for each. Having a list before you go will reduce your stress level when objections come up and allow you to stay relaxed.

Express Curiosity

To understand another’s objections, take a minute and look at your offer from their perspective, then approach it in such a way that you can ask questions. People are powerfully motivated to talk about themselves, especially when it involves beliefs and opinions. This small tactic does a lot – it lets them know you’re genuinely interested and curious about their views, which will help you overcome their objections and allow them to see you as an ally.

After you ask questions, listen. Instead of formulating your response and jumping in at the first pause, step back and watch for body language that shows more about the motivation behind their objections. Their tone, expressions, and gestures may indicate areas for further questioning.

Validate Concerns

Once you understand the prospect’s real concerns and the reasons behind them, acknowledge that you take their concerns seriously, and then you can provide them with information that helps them view your products or services differently in one of the following ways:

  • Offer a new perspective. Reframe their point of view by showing them how your product is a unique replacement for problems they face or a perfect addition to their existing solutions.
  • Bridge the gap. If their objection relates to misinformation or questions they still have, offer what they need to know to feel good about choosing your product.
  • Stand apart from alternatives. If they’re tempted to go with a competitor or develop in-house solutions, highlight your product or service’s exclusive advantages.

Shapiro Negotiations Institute’s Negotiation Training provides a systematic process for maximizing deals and maintaining relationships. Learn how to overcome objections and develop specific answers that can boost negotiating success. Request information today.

5 Common Negotiation Mistakes

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Negotiating is an art form, one that requires skills honed over time, but there are some mistakes you can avoid no matter how new you are to the game. Here are some common mistakes made by rookies and experienced negotiators alike.

They Don’t Listen

Negotiators can be so focused on presenting their piece and closing the deal they forget to listen. This alienates the person you’re trying to persuade. Show up prepared and know your stuff, but make sure you know your audience. Ask questions to find out where they’re coming from and what matters to them. No matter how great your pitch, if your listener feels un-listened to, it will likely fall on deaf ears.

They Talk Too Much

Have you ever been in a situation where someone communicated successfully, then kept talking so long you forgot what the original point was? Don’t make this mistake. Clearly and concisely present your case. Allow the other party a chance to ask questions. Answer them as clearly as possible, but be concise.

They Don’t Define What They Want

Before entering a negotiation, define exactly what you want from the other party. Decide your best hoped-for outcome and the minimum terms that will be acceptable to you. Use these as fixed points to ensure you won’t get derailed by emotion or manipulation.

Plan to get what you want, but don’t expect it. Have alternative solutions prepared ahead of time. Often, you’ll find you get what you want or you’re able to find a similar option that’s agreeable to both sides.

They Lack Confidence

Projecting confidence means putting in preparation time and being able to demonstrate you’re the expert in your field – no matter what the question. It doesn’t mean being loud or pushy. Know everything you can possibly know about your subject, then carry yourself accordingly.

They Don’t Build Relationships

A good negotiator is always building relationships. If you are meeting someone for the first time, try not to start at the negotiating table. Meet for dinner the night before to establish rapport and get to know the person you’re going to be dealing with.

Build time into every day to strengthen personal connections with others. Let people know you aren’t just in it for what you can get from them, but you care about them personally. Ask questions about things that interest them and really listen. Return to those topics every time you see them to build a deeper connection.

Be prepared, be credible, and let the other side know you care about what matters to them. Negotiation is an art that takes practice, so keep these blunders in mind before you start the process.

Tips for Negotiations When the Going Gets Tough

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Everyone can negotiate from a place of strength. When you know you offer the best product, service, or customer support, you can easily push through the tough talks. What happens when your company asks you to keep producing results after a major professional or organizational setback? Knowing how to negotiate at your weakest will give you strength.

 

Create a Mindset of Resilience

 Perhaps a powerful client wrote a scathing review of the business online or you gave a client the wrong quote and need to backtrack in your negotiations to meet your sales targets. In any tough situation, a negotiator could crumble or could look for ways to turn those seeming setbacks into opportunity. Negotiation resiliency is a concept that describes a person’s ability to recover quickly in the light of adverse negotiation outcomes.

Anyone can train his or her mind to immediately go into problem-solving mode, persevere, and see opportunity in the face of adversity. If you can master negotiation resiliency, you can salvage the deal and/or relationship.

 

Recognize Your Own Value

Use your newfound resilience to take a second glance at the situation. Assess the situation placing an emphasis on the other party’s needs, weaknesses, and attitudes. If you understand the motivations driving someone else, you can craft a pitch or negotiation argument to match even the most powerful positions. You always have something of value to offer. Find your competitive advantage and deliver. Actively listen in negotiations to find the opportunity in every interaction.

Successful negotiation is about finding a way for both parties to succeed. Look for the mutual benefit in promotion negotiations, client relationships, and contract negotiations.

 

Engage Effectively

With the right mindset and research supporting the claim, a negotiator can move into an engagement phase. Many people benefit from negotiations training as a way to put preparation into action. Tone, appearance, diction, and even handshakes build confidence and credibility.

Practice the following negotiation techniques to maintain your position of strength:

  • Avoid rushing your speech. Take measured breaths, pause for effect, and practice your position until you can present it with confidence.
  • Ask questions. Ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to answers. Take notes and use the other party’s comments to strengthen your own position.
  • Give the other party time to think. In difficult negotiations, avoid forcing someone into a decision too early.

Every interaction builds a narrative. You can choose to react to the other person’s point of view or create your own. In negotiations, the person who shapes the narrative often receives the most support. Look for ways to counter weaknesses without appearing defensive. Take responsibility for shortcomings while firmly promoting your strengths.

 

Shift Your Definition of Success

 Consider the big picture in every negotiation. Occasionally, conceding terms can set you and/or your organization up for future success. If, for example, you might lose a client if you refuse to drop a small contracted service, altering the terms of the contract may make more sense than enforcing the terms of the full contract.

Prioritize your mindset, conduct research, and carefully engage the other party to negotiate from a point of weakness. Handling a difficult situation with grace, maturity, and ease can turn a defeat into an unmitigated success.

Negotiations Training for Creatives

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Negotiations with customers take on an entirely different shape and form in creative industry businesses, but it’s just as (if not more) important. Creative products and services, such as paintings, photography, and handmade crafts, have unique value demands and artist’s compensation is often a gray area. It takes knowledge and skill to gain the maximum profit for your creative work without pushing away customers.

Mastering this kind of negotiation can seem more than a little intimidating – especially if you’re not confident about your pricing in the first place. However, if you keep these things in mind, you’ll stand out among competitors and earn the profit you deserve.

 

Do Your Research

The first step to negotiating is to be well informed. You need to know the ins and outs of appraisal techniques as well as comparable pricing from other artists. Remember that experience, rarity, application, and materials (among other things) all play a role in the total value of your products.

 

Be Confident

The quickest way to devalue your work is to second guess yourself. Take your time and crunch the numbers, then stand by them. Any time a client is haggling, they’re essentially arguing about the value of your work. Don’t be afraid to be flexible about special requests, delivery options, and other unique situations, but stay confident and firm with your pricing or others could take advantage of you.

 

Communicate Well and Listen

A negotiation is a two-way conversation. Any time one party takes over, all progress will be halted. It’s absolutely crucial that you listen to your customer’s ideas, questions, and concerns. You’re not just making a sale, you’re building a connection. Get your own points across, but pay attention to theirs, as well.

 

Show Your Worth

You know what they say – seeing is believing. You can’t expect customers to understand or agree to the value of your work if they aren’t familiar with any examples. You need some sort of gallery, whether it’s a mobile portfolio or a whole art studio for them to walk through. Show them the kind of quality they can expect and they’ll be less likely to haggle.

 

Build From Your Reputation

Negotiating will be more difficult in the beginning, but as your portfolio and customer service reputation grows, it will become easier. Clients may one day be fighting over your artwork regardless of the price. Stay motivated and determined – things can only get easier from here.