Learn how to make things happen with these 19 key negotiating strategies from Ivanka Trump, author of The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life.
In my life, this means everything from legal bills to real estate deals in Panama. I’ve been negotiating for as long as I can remember. When I was a student at Choate, I negotiated off-campus privileges to allow me to pursue my modeling career in New York — no easy feat in the traditional boarding school lockdown environment. The school officials were lined up against me on this, but I made a compelling argument. They’d granted similar leave to a student who was training to be an Olympic skier, so I used precedent to my advantage and got what I wanted, which included keeping a car on campus and getting permission to drive down to New York for go-sees. One of the great lessons here was that my parents left it to me to work out the terms. If it was something I wanted, they knew I’d find a way to make it happen.
That’s what you’re doing when you’re banging out an agreement — you’re finding a way to make something happen: a transaction, a contract, an arrangement of some kind or other. The best negotiations result in a deal that benefits both parties, so very often that’s what I try to accomplish. Of course, there are times when you simply want to come out ahead in a deal, but as a guiding principle you’ll want to play it straight, because you never know when you’ll next be seated across the table from the very same person, working on a follow-up transaction. The only time I stray from this philosophy is when I’m angling for some kind of break on a personal level or when the residual relationship is irrelevant. I’ll call to renegotiate my cable bill, for example, if I hear that a friend in my building is paying far less for her service. Here I’m not looking to build or nurture a relationship, the way I would be in a professional negotiation. Instead, I’m looking to get the best price for the same service. I’m offering the cable company the continued privilege of doing business with me, a long-term customer. What I’m seeking is simply the courtesy of being given the same terms it has extended to others — and preferably better.
A lot of people think it’s tacky to negotiate with a vendor. They even have a name for it: haggling. But I don’t see anything wrong with the practice. There’s no negative taint to it; as far as I’m concerned, it’s just business. For the longest time, there were certain settings where negotiating on a sales price was considered unacceptable — in department stores, for example. Yet in marketplaces all around the world, haggling over price is the order of the day. It’s the law of supply and demand. Here in the United States, it’s perfectly acceptable, even expected, for us to negotiate in some circumstances — say, when shopping for a new car. And now, as our economy tightens, we’re seeing this type of negotiation more and more, as consumers are less and less inclined to part with their hard-earned dollars, and sellers are becoming increasingly eager to pry those dollars from customers’ fingers.
My father is well known for his negotiating skills, so I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from the very best. A great many so-called experts have written volumes on the subject, but here are a couple of pointers I’ve picked up along the way.
Know what you want. It’s the number one rule going into any negotiation, yet most people don’t give it a thought. They’ll start in on a series of discussions and figure their objectives will become clear to them in time. If you take this approach you’ll allow the other party to define your goals, instead of the other way around.
Be aware of your physical presence. Size matters. Height, stature, how you carry yourself — they all come into play in a negotiation. In some cases the balance of power is already tilted in one direction before discussions even began. I once read about an executive who had his desk built six inches too high (with a desk chair perched at a corresponding height), placed opposite a visitor’s chair that was six inches too low. I don’t advocate this approach, but I appreciate the message behind it: a show of strength can very often be misinterpreted as…well, strength. The effect in this scenario was to put the executive in a clear position of power and authority over his visitor — to make his opposition feel “dominated” from the outset. Talk about homefield advantage!
Make sure you’re negotiating with the right person. A classic rookie mistake is you make all kinds of progress and give all kinds of concessions, and suddenly you look up and realize the person you’re talking to doesn’t have the authority to finalize your deal. The actual “boss” will then come to the table and continue the negotiation, often without acknowledging the concessions you have already made.
Try to read the people across the table from you. Put yourself in their shoes. Think about what makes sense for them in this deal. Think about the points they might be unwilling to concede — and why.
Understand their personality. Collect as much information as you can about the people you’ll be dealing with. Learn what they’re really looking to get out of the deal, not just what they’re telling you. Discover their true goal, and you’ll be well on your way to yours. The best way to do this is to listen more than you speak. You might discover a concession you can make that will cost you only a little and count for a lot on the other side. Know that some people respond better to a carrot; others, to a stick. Know which type of person you’re dealing with, and alter your style to suit. Be the carrot or be the stick, but get it done.
Be honest with yourself. Know that your personality will sometimes clash with the other party and that it’s okay to separate yourself from the negotiation if you think your involvement is counterproductive. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the deal. Bring in another member of your team if you find yourself at an impasse. My partners and I are always sizing up our “competition” on the other side of the table to determine which one of us might be best suited to a particular negotiation.
Understand that people ask for more than they expect to get. Feel free to do the same. My brother Don is always reminding me that you don’t get what you don’t ask for.
Share the logic for your requests. If your fellow negotiator understands your reasoning, and your logic is sound, it makes it more difficult to oppose the request.
Trust, but verify. I’m always prepared to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but I’m careful to back it up during the due diligence process. A certain amount of skepticism is healthy in assessing the merits of any deal.
Resist the temptation to cut the pie in half. Make trades, but don’t think that splitting the difference down the middle is any kind of winning solution to a stalemate. Demonstrate a willingness to do so, and it will lead to bad behavior on the other side. The other party will end up asking for too much in order to anchor you at a higher number, making it difficult for you to bridge the gap in a workable way.
Don’t negotiate by e-mail. It might seem like a convenient timesaver, but it’s a cop-out. In my experience, it actually benefits the weaker party, because that person will be able to avoid a direct confrontation and have more time to craft a strong response to their weak position.
Give to get. The best deal is the one that works out favorably for both parties — except in a pure buy-sell transaction with no likelihood of future deals. I try to keep this in mind when I’m working on a new partnership agreement or some type of joint venture. A lot of times, you’ll continue to work with the other party long after your deal is finalized, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure each side believes it got a good deal. I never mind it when the other guy feels as if he “won” a particular negotiation, because if I’m happy with the outcome and it satisfies my company’s goals, I’ll know it means that I won as well.
Perception is more important than reality. If someone perceives something to be true, it is more important than if it is in fact true. Let the other guy think what he wants. This doesn’t mean you should be duplicitous or deceitful, but don’t go out of your way to correct a false assumption if it plays to your advantage.
Put all your big issues on the table. Right away, if you can. The longer you wait to show your hand, the fewer cards you’ll have to play.
Make sure your concessions are acknowledged. Even if they’re relatively small. It’ll help your case later on if the other guys feel as if they’ve won a point or two.
Use your leverage. I’m not afraid to use my celebrity to my advantage in negotiations. Or my connections. Very often, when I’m trying to seal a favorable deal, I’ll invite a potential partner to one of our country clubs for a friendly round of golf. Sometimes the smallest “sweetener” can produce the biggest results; it softens the other guy up and puts him in a position to want to respond favorably to me and my terms.
Be prepared. The Boy Scouts know what they’re doing. Do your homework, and come to the table armed with research, backstory, and whatever other information you can find. The more you know, the stronger your position. It’s tough to argue with someone who can back up her assertions with a rational, knowledgeable argument.
Know when to walk away. Some of the best deals I ever negotiated are the ones that never came to fruition. Lately, I’ve been very fortunate to have walked away from several top-of-the-market deals that just didn’t make sense for us at the time. That they would make even less sense for us now is a victory of a kind. One thing I always try to maintain is what I call my “walk-away power.” Let it be known that you’re perfectly willing to let a deal go if you can’t make it work. If the other guy thinks you’re forced by circumstances to do a deal, he’ll have an advantage.
Don’t allow negotiations to drag on too long. Many a deal dies under its own weight. It still might be a good deal all around, but human nature gets in the way. People lose their passion for a transaction that never quite reaches its conclusion, especially entrepreneurial types, if they start to think you want to beat them up on every nonsubstantive issue.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ivanka Maria Trump, author of The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life (Copyright © 2009 by Ivanka Trump), is a businesswoman, former fashion model, and the daughter of Ivana and Donald Trump. She joined The Trump Organization in 2005 and is currently vice president of real estate development and acquisitions. In addition, she joined forces with Dynamic Diamond Corp to design and introduce a line of jewelry, The Ivanka Trump Collection. She is a boardroom judge on the hit show The Apprentice. Ivanka received her BA in real estate from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating summa cum laude.
MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR
- Read the Introduction to The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life
- Watch the video: An interview with Ivanka Trump