Being a good negotiator is central to Beth’s role at MRI. “Every day, I’m in discussions with third-party vendors with the goal of achieving positive outcomes that yield mutually beneficial results,” she says. “It’s not about beating the opposition out of the other party. In the end it’s about everyone feeling that the deal is a good one.”
Beth observes that the number of women working in roles requiring keen negotiating skills is much greater than in the past, when many believed that these roles required the toughness that men could bring to the table. “In my experience,” she says, “women tend to excel at reading people and building relationships, two incredibly important parts of negotiation. While the ability to aggressively get what you want might seem like a victory in the moment, the reality is that the lack of goodwill generated by this can cause problems down the road.”
Here are some of Beth’s most valuable tips to help all negotiators develop this make-or-break professional skill.
Do Your Research
“Always do your research, show up prepared, and demonstrate early on that you understand exactly who you’re negotiating with. In my role at MRI, I have to work across numerous industries from software companies, to telecommunications, to hotel contracts. You must be well-versed enough to understand the industry in which you’re negotiating — if your negotiation partner needs to educate you, you’ve lost credibility and leverage.”
Get Straight to the Point
“Especially when negotiating with men, directness is the best approach. I recommend keeping your focus on closing the deal, and your desired outcome, rather than spending your time on the minutiae in a very detailed discussion. Start out by sharing your goal to set expectations, and ask your negotiation partner a few succinct, pointed questions so you can understand what they want out of the negotiation.”
“Often, early on in my negotiations for MRI, I’ll ask the rep or vendor what closing this deal would mean for them. For example, what would a win for them look like? Is there a time frame in which they’d like to get the contract executed?
“Almost every time, the vendor is caught off guard — they so rarely feel considered during negotiation. In my experience, this shows that you value partnership and a mutually beneficial outcome, right out of the gate.”
“Confidence is key to effective negotiation — and that includes the confidence to walk away. If for any reason, a negotiation is not going well, I will stop or pause the process altogether, no matter how badly I want the deal to close. You can always reopen the discussion later, but there is little to be gained by prolonging an interaction that is no longer serving you.”
“After every negotiation, good or bad, I spend fifteen minutes doing a quick self check-in. What went well? What do I wish happened? What could I have done differently? This moment of self-reflection allows me to assess my own role in the negotiation, and ensure that my skills are always improving.”
Keep it Honest
“If you cultivate honesty and strong relationship and communication skills, other people will trust and want to work alongside you. In my role, vendors know what to expect from dealing with me, and colleagues and Managing Partners trust that I am acting in good faith to get the best deal for them.
“Having strong negotiation skills will also help when you have to deliver bad news about the outcome of a negotiation to a partner or co-worker. Because you’ve established an honest, trusting relationship, they can be confident you did everything you could to get the best results possible — even if the outcome wasn’t exactly what they hoped for.”
How Beth Opens a Negotiation
There is no one right way to negotiate, and you’ll likely settle on an approach that feels comfortable and authentic for you.
However, if you’re looking for some guidance on how to get started, Beth often uses these three points to open her negotiations. Next time you aren’t sure how to start your negotiation, give them a try:
- Ask your partner why closing this deal is important to them and their company.
- Assure your partner that your goal is not to squeeze every last penny from them, but to find an outcome that is mutually favorable for you both.
- Set a boundary about your expectations. Communicate that you are not interested in wasting time trading multiple offers back and forth, and that you expect them to come forward with their best possible proposal once initial discussion is out of the way.
An Essential Life and Business Skill
Many professionals find negotiation difficult, stressful, or challenging, but successful negotiation boils down to a few simple principles: relationship building, strong communication skills, honesty, and transparency.
“We must have the confidence to put those skills to use in a persuasive style and build relationships on a foundation of honesty and professionalism,” Beth concludes.
Focusing on these areas while developing yourself as a negotiator will benefit you outside the office, too. Negotiation is a part of life, whether you’re debating with your significant other on where to go for dinner or attempting to get the best deal on a new vehicle. No matter your age, gender, or professional title, negotiating is something by which you should not be intimidated.