Whether you’re buying a house, asking for a raise, the world is one huge negotiating table. Here’s how to negotiate successfully:

Thorough preparation

The first thing to do is examine the subject matter, which will help you formulate the framework for negotiation. Try to understand the rules and limitations, rewards and penalties of the situation.

Analyse the parties involved and study past negotiations for patterns, implementation and decisions taken. Establish the objectives of the negotiation. Once you have understood the background of the situation, you can prioritise the issues.

After identifying the areas of contention and dispute, establish an agenda to give the discussion better focus. Crystalise your position by looking at the needs of both parties. Ask yourself what you are willing to concede.

Personality factors

A successful negotiator needs these qualities: knowing how to prepare and plan; knowing the subject; ability to think clearly and rapidly; knowing how to listen; good judgment; integrity; ability to persuade people; patience; and a decisive mind.

List the qualities you possess and those you do not. Remember, anyone can acquire the qualities needed to be an effective negotiator.

Negotiation skills

The acronym RESPECT summarises the step-by-step process for winning your arguments:

Ready yourself. Prepare yourself by identifying your interests and your opponent's. List and rank the issues involved. Gather relevant information and consult with others to test your assumptions. Devise a time plan, venue, strategy and appropriate tactics.

Explore each other’s needs. Ask questions and listen to your opponent’s position. Maintain a positive and open non-verbal climate by speaking clearly and confidently. Use assertive language and silence for effect and results.

Signals. Watch out for signals that indicate movement towards agreement or settlement. Clarify all signals with follow-up questions, then reciprocate with your own signals.

Probe with proposals. After stating your conditions clearly, use effective communication techniques to reach tentative agreements. If an impasse sets in, repackage your proposal to create various options and win-win solutions.

Exchange concessions. Give yourself plenty of room to negotiate, and remember that all offers should be realistic. What you agree to give up should be monitored closely and conceded slowly.

Close the deal. Listen for questions or statements that indicate a readiness to close the deal, and look at the opponent’s body language. Is it consistent with what he is saying? Should there be an impasse, try approaching the issues from another angle.

Tie up loose ends. Always verify agreements in writing. Question ambiguities and confirm all agreed positions in black and white.

Conflict-handling strategies

Planning your negotiation strategy will prepare you psychologically for the battle.

There are typically five negotiation strategies, depending on the outcome of your preparatory work and your grasp of the issues involved:

Competing — being forceful. This involves reinforcing your stand. Use if you are not concerned with the other party’s needs. You may use this in an emergency situation, when the other party is untrustworthy, or when you are sure you have the right solution.

Collaborating — problem-solving method. When ensuring all parties get the most benefits, collaborating is a good strategy. This method is particularly useful when the issue at hand is too important to compromise on. Collaborating often leads to creative solutions and win-win outcomes.

Avoiding — withdrawing. If the issue is trivial or your opponent outmatches you, you may choose not to confront the issue. This strategy is best when the potential disruption arising from the confrontation may be greater than the potential benefit from solving it.

Accommodating — yielding. Choose this strategy when you find that the position you have taken is wrong or when you wish to minimise a losing position. You can also adopt this strategy when the other party’s issues have priority over yours.

Compromising — horse trading. If a quick, temporary solution is required, then a simple compromise may be all that’s required. Choose this strategy when both parties’ goals are equally important and using more aggressive strategies is not worth the disruption that will inevitably follow.

Negotiating well is a continuous learning process. The more you practise, the better you get at it.