7 ways to become a negotiation ninja

ninja negotiator

Most of us accept the price listed and the terms as offered when buying something.

Sure, we want a bargain. But we don't always know how to get one.

No matter what kind of purchase you're making -- from a Honda to a hotel room, or from cable to a condo -- you can almost always get a better deal after a little haggling.

"People often think they need to put on their armor to go into the combat of negotiation," said Steven P. Cohen, a negotiation consultant and the author of "The Practical Negotiator: How to Argue Your Point, Plead Your Case, and Prevail in Any Situation."

"That very idea makes people afraid to attempt negotiation."

According to experts at striking a deal, negotiating is not a competitive sport or death match.

Rather than arming yourself for war, prepare like a ninja so that your opponent doesn't see you coming. By being prepared in the fine art of negotiation, the salesperson you encounter will be knocked off their well-worn script. And this can mean big savings for you.

Here's how to stealthily prepare and respectfully engage in negotiation to get what you really want.

1. Know what you want

Two things you must answer for yourself before starting a negotiation: What do you want and why do you want it? When you're in the heat of discussions, choices will come your way, said Cohen. You'll need to be able to hold these moving targets up against your fixed wants.

Also you'll need to know the factors that will seal the deal for you, beyond just the price.

2. Never make a concession without getting a reward

Not everything on the table carries the same weight to you. And it certainly doesn't mean the same to the other side. But if you give up something, be sure you're getting something in return.

You may need a car now and really want it to be blue. But the dealer only has red. If you take the red car, ask what they'll give you in exchange.

It works the other way, too: "Parties are going to be willing to fulfill your request if they aren't treated as losers and they'll do it if there's something in it for them," said Cohen.

3. Preparation, preparation, preparation

In real estate it's all about location. In negotiation it's all about preparation. Know what you want, but also study up on the industry so you know you have realistic expectations.

Come armed with pertinent numbers like what your previous payments were, what your credit score is or how long you held your last service agreement.

You'll also need to know at least a little bit about the market in which you are negotiating. Have a competitor's offer in hand, know what extras they may try to add on to your bill, have an expectation of a reasonable term of service.

If you haven't done a bit of homework about the industry, you won't know whether you're being treated properly and when you're being told the truth. "Preparation is an inoculation against surprises," says Cohen.

4. Control what you can (not much)

The only part of the negotiation you can actually control is how it starts.

You don't know what the other party will agree to, but you can control the location (are you going into their office to talk in person or over the phone?), your appearance (are you trying to negotiate the price of a work suit wearing your home improvement jeans?) and also the general tone with which you open.

"The mood you want to set is one of joint gains," says Cohen. "People are likely to treat you honorably and fairly."

5. Haggle in ranges

Often sales people will try to get a hook in you, by asking what kind of monthly payments you would like or what your lowest price is.

Keep your hard numbers under wraps. Respond, instead, with a range. If the top amount you could pay is $500, tell the sales person, "I'm looking for something under $300."

Don't fall for tried and true sales techniques like impending events ("The sale is ending today," "This is the last one I have," "I can't give you this deal next week."). If you're not getting closer to what you want, walk out.

6. Always ask open-ended questions

Sometimes it's hard to know whether a sales person is open to negotiating. But you should avoid asking that question directly.

"If you ask a yes or no question, you're guaranteeing a 50% chance you'll get an answer you don't want," says Cohen.

Instead, ask more general questions: "What can you do to make it more attractive to me?" or "How could we get to a better price?"

Those are friendly but direct ways to say, "Let's make a deal."

7. Know when to shut up

Negotiation is about listening. If you aren't listening to what the other party is saying, you'll miss weak spots in their arguments or details they omit.

"Use their language when responding to them so they know that you're listening," says Cohen.

Being silent, a power move in political or business negotiations, can also work in personal negotiations, too. The important thing when responding with silence is a poker face -- no anger or frustration. Just a blank face and silence.

Getting started

Getting a job

Buying a car

Starting to invest

Buying a home

Starting a family

Retirement planning


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