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The mistakes everyone makes negotiating, and what to do instead

people whispering to each other
Reuters/Pascal Lauener
Ask for what you want.
This article is more than 2 years old.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What should everyone know about negotiation? Answer by Mira Zaslove, product manager.

Most things in life are negotiable, and you can improve your negotiation skills with four easy tips.

I’ve spent the majority of my career negotiating and training people to negotiate. Along the way I’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned that negotiation can often be improved by actually doing the opposite of what I’d originally think to do.

Mistake #1: Providing too many options

  • You want to do this: You’re going to be tempted to offer as many options as possible when negotiating. You may think that if you throw out enough options, the other person is bound to agree with one—the more choice you provide, the better.
  • Do this instead: Limit the options you provide to two or three. The paradox of choice dictates that the more choices you provide to someone, the more they like aspects of each option. Therefore, they over-think and believe they can find the perfect solution. If you go to the store and see 20 t-shirts in your size, you are likely to have a harder time making a decision on what to buy than if you just see three. People like easy, quick solutions. They are less likely to second guess and will make a decision more quickly if you restrict the available options. Further reading: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.

Mistake #2: Falling for the bluff

  • You want to do this: You’re going to want to believe someone when they get too huffy. When someone gets passionate and appears confident, you’re programmed to believe them. When they vehemently protest that your price is too high and they are going to walk, you take their confidence at face value and cave.
  • Do this instead: People who bluff generally overcompensate. In my experience the people who screamed and yelled and made the biggest fuss about walking out on the deal actually didn’t mean it. They were just trying to intimidate me. And it worked, until I noticed the pattern. Rather, it was the guy who was not confident and was actually hesitant who walked. When a person is actually closing the door, they generally regret that it has come to this, and do not feel the need to scream. They are done. The more someone protests that the price is too high, and makes a fuss, generally the more wiggle room you have. Fear the quiet negotiator who isn’t concerned with how he appears. The more someone is trying to impress you with their confidence and how serious they are, generally the more they are bluffing.

Mistake #3: Playing games and bluffing yourself

  • You want to do this: You want to bluff just as much as you want to catch their bluff. Negotiation is adversarial, the more you let the other guy know what you want, the more he’s going to use it to his advantage and exploit you.
  • Do this instead: If you are not clear about what you want, you are unlikely to get it. I’ve found that focusing on the outcome—and not on how you appear—leads to successful outcomes. State what you want and focus only on your intended goal and not on your ego. Relay your position in a simple, straight-forward, and confident way. You’d be surprised how many people respond. Most people don’t react well to distracting game playing and once you’ve been discovered, it’s hard to regain your footing.

Mistake #4: Dwelling on sunk costs and time spent

  • You want to do this: You want to see a reward for all your hard work. The more time and money you’ve spent on a deal, the closer you are to closing it and the better deal it’s going to be. All that work has to pay off eventually, right?
  • Do this instead: Most of my best deals were quick deals because they were simple. Sadly, the deals I spent the most time, agony, and sleep on died. They died because they were too complicated. Generally, the more complicated a deal is, the less likely you are to close it. Focus on deals that make sense, because time is your most valuable asset. Do not spend time dwelling on the time and money you have already spent. It is gone. Opportunity costs are too high to continue beating a dead horse.

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