Need less, and try to have what you need within you. This may sound "zen," but it will help you negotiate anything. Try not to be transactional with people -- be you and give them space to be who they are . . . .Here are some thoughts I've had on negotiating agreements with clients, but that also translate to negotiating just about anything in life:
1. What “problem” does negotiation seek to solve? The perceived risks on both sides driven by a lack of information and transparency. WHO are you? Who are THEY? What mutual needs and capacities do both sides bring to the table? We all want to be better because we have negotiated. Even more importantly, we want to trust and be trusted -- in the long-run, building trust over time is far more important than any contract. A contract is a formalized platform to build trust, but a contract is a lousy platform for building a "real" human relationship.
2. How do you know when you are negotiating? If two people are involved, and both are alive (i.e., sentient beings) then you are negotiating. In life, we are always negotiating something. Pay attention to people and what they say and do. If they say one thing and do something different, they have told you a lot about themselves. If what they say is aligned with what they do, you have an authentic person (whether for good or ill). Watch. Listen. Learn.
3. Can I negotiate with or against myself? Certainly with yourself. Think of it as that Hollywood cliche' of the good angel and the devil arguing with each other on your shoulders. When the devil wins, you are arguing against yourself. Try never to negotiate against yourself. Far better to shut up and say nothing at all. In every negotiation, you are your own worst enemy. Try to be less so.
4. What is a negotiated agreement? The agreed-upon conditions (implied or express commitments) for starting and moving forward with a relationship. Seek to build long-term trust with all people. It will make you happier and result in better outcomes to all negotiations. In the short-term, and in the absence of trust, take a page from ex-President Ronald Reagan: “Trust but verify.” You’ll want to blend trusting with “not getting screwed.” And yes, you may need a legal advisor for the big, expensive stuff (buying a house, selling a business, etc.).
5. What are the perceived risks of the freelancer and the prospective client? For client: non-performance, low-quality performance, freelancer is “difficult” to work with, the payment/rate is too high and the quality too low, etc. For freelancers: high PIA (pain in the “tailbone”) factor for client, non-payment, client has bad/dumb strategy, etc.
7 Tips for Negotiating Success
1. Above all else, and when unsure how to proceed, always investigate the prospect’s needs by asking questions. What are they looking to achieve? What resources are allocated toward the goal? What’s their strategy; what have they tried before this? Ask questions and listen. The party that talks the most and focuses the most on themselves usually loses.
2. When you are required to talk, talk about your value (Unique Value Proposition: what makes you different), how your UVP aligns with the needs of the other party (which you’ve already explored), and seek opportunities for mutual value. Do all of this long before any discussion of rates and payment. Value is inherently subjective on both sides, until info. has been exchanged.
3. Let the prospect take the lead, and do as much listening and note-taking as you possibly can. Probe pain points. Be empathetic. Listen and take a “problem-solving” approach to the needs of the other party.
4. Withhold commitment as long as you can. The longer you withhold commitment, the more relevant info. you can collect and the more leverage you’ll have as you listen. Again, focus on learning their needs and reinforcing your UVP. When you do these things, you become the one who gets to decide, not the other party, assuming you can add value. If you can’t add value, then work on developing the ability to add value. THe other party always wants: (1) quality in your offering and (2) not to deal with an asshole. So even being nice adds some value.
5. As much as possible, don’t communicate need and neediness. These reduce your leverage and perceived value. Focus and seek to help the prospect with their needs before bringing up your own. The way to win is to focus on them first before asking for what you need. When you do this, most people will want to work with you.
6. Have a bottom-line rate/price in mind before the negotiation. This is the rate where you can work well and without resentment. If the client offers you less, be prepared to stop negotiating. Never accept an agreement that will make you pissed off and looking for the exit in three months. Be neither the screwee nor the screwer. Tell the other party you want to work with them, but never take a deal that doesn’t work for you. We all need to look in the mirror and keep our self respect.
7. Most of all, know what you want out of the relationship and prioritize those things. For instance, I need the following (and in this order): (1) people I want to work with and can work well with (I have a "no asshole rule" when I choose my clients, for instance; (2) the opportunity to learn new things and develop new skills (learning is fun for me and adds value for my clients); (3) enough money to have a happy life. I tend to negotiate “probationary periods” with people if the money is right and I can learn. I do this to get more information about whether I can trust the other side, as I give them my trust. These agreements are probationary because I need space to exit if I the other party shows they can’t be trusted. Always be prepared to exit if your basic values and boundaries get ignored. On the other hand, be ready to "invest" in good people who are willing to "invest" in you. I call these "great relationships," but (as the song says, "it takes two, babe."
Find out what works for YOU. Negotiation is nothing if not subjective, because the things we value most (love, trust, quality, human experience) can be highly subjective too.