The Language Of Negotiation
The language of negotiation consists of several things: there’s what you say; there’s how you say it; and there’s the way in which manner and body language affect the message you are giving or receiving.
Much of it is common sense, and we don’t want to overcomplicate what should, in the end, be a natural process. However, you will hopefully find the technical aspects discussed in this chapter interesting and useful.
First of all, we’re going to look at non-verbal communication: body language, pace and tonality. This is useful within negotiation, as it can help you interpret a salesperson’s willingness to trade. You can also help determine how you are being perceived, by being aware of your body language.
Secondly, we discuss the use and benefits of rapport. This is also a hugely useful negotiation skill, as the salesperson or buyer is much more likely to work hard to help you if you are getting on with them.
Finally, we look at what you say – the words used in negotiation. This includes using your words to good effect, or listening out for what your opposite number is saying (or not saying). This last point has a significant impact: we often assume something from what is said – and it isn’t always true. As Mark Twain put it: ‘What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.’
1. NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
It may come as a surprise to you to learn how much of the power of any verbal message comes down to the way in which it is said, and the gestures that accompany it. If you take, for example, the simple phrase, ‘That’s great!’, what is your initial thought? What is being conveyed?
It may depend on the mood you are in. Do you think:
- a.It’s a positive and excited response to receiving some good news? For example, someone has just won the jackpot in the lottery (though I imagine, in that case, that there might be a few more unprintable words involved as well!).
- b.Or is it a sarcastic answer to news that someone is annoyed at? For example, they have bought 50 lottery tickets without winning a bean!
In so far as these things are measurable, it’s been estimated that the actual words used account for less than 10% of the meaning behind a message – the rest is conveyed by pace, tone and body language. And that is why in this book I often say that where possible you should buy products face-to-face (assuming that it beats the internet package on offer).
If you can’t negotiate face-to-face, the telephone is better than email or letter, but although it is then possible to hear the words used and interpret the tonality, you cannot pick up on body language – which accounts for so much.
So what is body language?
Body language is communication through postures, expressions and gestures (encompassing the whole body, including the face). Often these are unconscious movements, although senior politicians – amongst others – are taught to communicate effectively in this way.
The beauty of body language (and, in fact, negotiation) is that you have opportunities to practise, observe and learn every day. Key give-away areas are: the eyes, the mouth, the arms, the legs, the hands and posture. From these, many moods and emotions can be read to allow you to understand whether or not someone is ready to buy, sell, or agree to your terms.
Six basic emotions
There are many different opinions on which are the true basic human emotions; however, I’m going to take six that I believe are fundamental.
From these basic emotions, others come. For example, within the context of negotiation, happiness is similar to interest – if a salesperson is looking happy as he talks to you, he is likely to be interested in doing a deal (this is not rocket science!).
So why is it important to understand body language?
Would you rather pay £10,000 less for your next property, simply because you have realised from the seller’s manner that he/she is anxious/eager to sell?
When buying a car, although you have already negotiated a GPS system, wouldn’t it be great if you could also get a better CD player and a full tank of petrol for no extra cost? And all because you saw that the salesperson was nodding and smiling when you asked for the GPS system to be included!
Understanding body language, and reacting effectively to it, can help you get more from a deal – it can also help you realise when it’s time to stop, as you have got all that you can.
Reading body language
In the table below are some signs that may help you interpret how the negotiation is faring. Remember to take things in context, and wherever possible look for two or three signs, rather than one.
Slightly scrunched eyes
Making a decision.
Looking away (perhaps towards where the decision-maker is)
Not a decision-maker (in which case, politely find out who is). You need to speak to someone who has the authority to package a better deal.
Rubbing nose (or it could be they just have an itch!)
Expressing doubt in your story (or their own one is not entirely true and they are hiding something)
Looking up and to the right when responding to you
Being creative/telling a lie
The list is by no means exhaustive. Observe people as you interact with them, and build up your own personal portfolio of signs. And remember: awareness of others is key to becoming a good negotiator.
Using the right body language
Unless you are well practised, you should allow your own body language to be natural. It is, however, worth spending some time on how you want to be perceived by your opposite number when you are about to negotiate.
This depends on what you want to achieve. In some situations, you want them to believe that you know what you are doing and won’t be messed with. In others, you may want to create the impression that you are wide-eyed and innocent – not a great negotiator, determined to get the best deal you can.
In the main, I aim to come across as somewhere in between: confident, polite, willing to learn and listen, and ready to let them have my money if they treat me fairly.
Getting the best from a salesperson
Often the best way to approach salespeople is realising how they best react to you. Remember the old adage that people buy people, and although the job of a salesperson is to get to know you and your needs, if you can get to know them better, talk to them in a way they understand and establish their needs, then you will probably generate the best from them, and that could mean a better deal for you. This is often referred to as gaining rapport.
What is rapport?
Rapport is when you create mutual trust and respect and instinctively begin to interact effortlessly with someone. Rapport is likely to be most successful when it is genuine and not fabricated; this is why it is important to have a real interest in the people you are dealing with. The best salespeople out there are masters at gaining rapid rapport with people. When you know, like and trust someone you are much more likely to be able to negotiate with them to best effect. Of course, there are also slimy salespeople who try to appear to be your best friend when clearly they’re not – we all know how genuinely that comes across! There are several ways to gain rapport, and you are best advised to pick one that suits your personality and style, as it will come over more genuinely than if you look as though you are following a process you don’t totally buy into.
Some ways in which you can gain rapport
- 1.The personal touch. It’s highly likely the salesperson will tell you who they are. If they don’t, introduce yourself and ask them their name. This makes the conversation much more personal.
- 2.Treat people as you would like to be treated. Salespeople have to deal with all types of customers: happy ones, sad ones, miserable ones, aggressive ones – and it makes a change when they meet someone who shows a degree of interest, listens, asks questions and appreciates their help. You are much more likely to find things out and weigh up the likelihood of a deal being offered if you do this. Showing genuine interest will get them to reveal more, and also buy into you as a person. Of course, this has to be balanced with not overdoing it and showing too much enthusiasm and keenness, as this can give away the desire for you to buy the product regardless of a discount!
- 3.Respect their language. What is the background of the salesperson? What age group are they? What kind of language are they using? This is not to be stereotypical, but reacting well to the language that they use is an important element of gaining rapport. If they are older, softly spoken and obviously from a middle class background, they will respond more effectively if you can (genuinely) speak to them in a similar way, rather than saying: ‘All right, my son, how’s it going? Can you give me the low-down on this freezer, geezer?’ However, if they are young, trendy and quite laid back, a more matey approach may be appropriate, if, and only if, you don’t look like a complete berk trying to emulate them! If you are too far removed from their language, then just be yourself without your more extreme ways and remember the first two points.
- 4.Maintain good eye contact. Eye contact has many uses. It shows interest, genuineness, confidence, and allows you to observe the other person from a body language point of view, giving you vital clues as to their intentions to trade and authenticity. Wearing sunglasses whilst talking to a salesperson is putting a barrier between you and them, so unless the sun is shining brightly in your eyes, put them away!
- 5.Choose the right person to do the deal. Experience has shown that sometimes it may be worth considering someone else to do the talking. Although I am an experienced negotiator, my wife has often had more success than I in getting what we want. If it means an added £30 off, then it’s worth swallowing your pride and allowing someone else to do the deal. The beauty of negotiating in shops is that you can try and use your persuasion, and then, if you feel you could have struck a better deal, ask your friend or partner to go in ten minutes later and have a try (unless, of course, there is only one item left in stock and there is every likelihood it will go within that time).
3. VERBAL COMMUNICATION
The importance of what is said
A. What you say
An important element of keeping a negotiation going is to make sure you do not give away strong buying signals (see Glossary). Now, of course it is obvious that you have interest in a product; otherwise you wouldn’t be in the shop asking about it. However, as long as the salesperson believes that you have options, and you are not committed to their product, then you are keeping the door open and maintaining their keenness to trade with you.
Using phrases like:
‘I am thinking of buying an MP3 player and there are a number of options I am considering, including the ZX322, CT26i, Radians LT123.’
Is infinitely better than saying:
‘I love the CT26i that has a whopping 20GB and the amazing sound that comes from the speakers.’
The words in bold in the first example create an impression of choice: in other words, ‘I might buy, but I’m not committed to the make.’
The words in bold in the second example are pound signs in the salesperson’s eyes!
If you are in a position to buy that day, make sure the salesperson knows that, as this will probably gain you more attention and you will be taken seriously. This is especially the case when the product price is high, for example with a car.
It is also worth using language that will keep the salesperson on their toes. For example, by ensuring they realise that price or a better package is what will determine who gets your business, without it sounding arrogant or rude. At the end of the day most people have pride, and if they feel you are pushing things too far, they may decide losing business is less bad than selling their soul for a quick buck.
Here is an example of how to phrase things politely:
‘I realise the advertised offer is £299.99; however, the important thing to me is that I get a good price. I feel that I might get a better offer if I shop around [list the places if you have them and they ask]. I am in a position to buy now, if I feel that I have got value. Is there anything you can do to help me?’
Here, no demands are made and you have empowered them to make a decision by asking for their help.
B. What they say
Listening out for what they say may help you to get a better deal. When a salesperson pushes (a sales term for selling a specific product or service) a particular model or make, it could be for two reasons. Firstly, they have listened to your requirements, and, with their product knowledge, have matched this with a particular make or model. Secondly, it could be that the store has been told to promote this make or model, and the salesperson has his ‘company hat’ on. If it’s the second reason, you may have more room to be able to strike a better deal.
Another idea would be to simply enquire;
‘How’s business today/this week/at the moment?’
‘What products would you recommend?’
... and listen out for their answers. If business is quiet or even consistent, then perhaps there is more likelihood that they will be willing to offer you a deal. If they say that ‘it’s hectic at the moment’ and they are rushed off their feet, then maybe it will prove more difficult. Though if they say this and you are the only one in the store, you may want to debate the genuineness of the answer to your question!
The importance of what is NOT said
What is not said is often as, or more important than, what is actually said.
A. What you don’t say
Good salespeople are trained to recognise this. For example, if you say ‘£500 is too expensive for this’, then the negotiation begins – you have raised an objection: in this case, price. What the statement implies is, ‘I am interested, but not at £500.’ So if you are happy to buy, but don’t want to pay that price, you may want to try offering that as an objection:
‘I quite like the product, but £500 is too expensive.’
... and wait for a response. Or if you think you don’t want to leave anything to chance, add:
‘If you reduce the price [or add in an item you would like for free], then I may be interested.’
B. What they don’t say
Always think of this when a salesperson is speaking to you. Do not assume anything. Good salespeople will never lie, but if they leave you with an idea which encourages you to purchase, but which is not strictly true, then it’s not in their interest to correct you. For example:
‘Well madam, the XTCi HD TV is literally flying off the shelves.’
What the salesperson is not saying is: ‘we have run out’. It may be the case that they have sold 20, but still have ten in stock and their standard stock delivery in a day’s time will deliver a further 20. However, the impression is: ‘limited availability – buy now!’
‘Never assume anything: ‘it makes an ASS out of U and ME’ is a great phrase to remember. Make sure you clarify:
‘How many have you got in stock at the moment?’
If they say ‘Errr ten’, then let the negotiation begin.