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I often ask an association staffer, "Who is the best negotiator at your association?" The most frequent response is, "It's not our executive director." I find it interesting that the person first tells me who "isn't" before telling me who "is." The most frequent answers are the meeting planner or the CFO.
Everyone knows a meeting planner who thinks he or she is a good negotiator but actually is perceived as a beggar or one who makes unfair demands on a vendor. Also, when negotiating contracts, many associations are quick to say, "We're a nonprofit." Translation: Please feel sorry for us and give it to us for free or at a deep discount. This technique is guilting a vendor. Unfair demands or stiff arming are often viewed as threatening a vendor for your business.
Wouldn't it be an asset to your association if every staff member were a good negotiator? As part of every hiring interview, assess each job candidate as to his negotiation skill level. In today's economy of belt tightening and budget cuts, shouldn't everyone on your staff receive negotiation training? Why? Most of us either forget or neglect to negotiate. My golden rule of negotiation is derived from Chutzpah 101: All good things come to those who ask. Your worse case scenario is the other party can say, "No." So what?
Here are some suggestions on how to be a better negotiator:
1. Prepare and practice! Although it sounds simple, most people enter a negotiation without giving serious thought to what they want and what the other party will want. Develop your wish list of desires and concessions. Have your Plan B in your back pocket. Role play before the negotiation.
2. Be flexible. A "take it or leave it" mindset will not help get you what you want and be a liability in future negotiations.
3. Develop a strategy in which both parties feel their needs and interests were met; they were respected; the other party was fair; they would do business again with each other; and each party would keep their word.
4. Get it in writing. Do not hesitate to scratch out what was initially agreed upon. Write in the new terms, and both parties initial the changes.
5. ASK! Ask for a rebate. Ask for a discount. Ask what the "hold back is." Ask, "Is that the very best you can do?" and shut up. The first person who talks loses. The worse that could happen is the other party will say, "No." My prediction is the other party will concede...something. Splitting the difference often makes both parties happy. No one ever died from rejection or a bad haircut.
Jaffa writes the "Tradeshow Floor" column for Association TRENDS. Contact him at email@example.com.