Like many people, I used to view negotiation in used car salesman terms. You know, start with a greedy offer, act like you are insulted, pretend you are about to walk away, actually walk away then come back, and try to trick or intimidate the other person. I hate all that stuff so I used to dread negotiations, but eventually I discovered a better way. As in other parts of business and life, just keep it simple and honest. I’m certainly not the first person to discover this approach, but it was new to me so I’ll share it.

Ahead of time decide on the absolute minimum you will accept. You have to truly be ready to walk away if you can’t get that minimum. If this deal is so important that you absolutely have to do it at any cost then you are doomed and you should stop reading this. Come on, have some pride! You aren’t going to be living in the gutter if you pass on this deal. Write down your minimum and tell someone on your team so you won’t forget. It is very easy to forget your boundaries when you are in the heat of negotiation.

Also ahead of time, write down the deal you would love but does not screw the other party. Yes, you should think about the other party’s welfare. Show the other party that you are reasonable and they usually will be too. As you write down your favorite deal, make sure that there are multiple dimensions to it, not just price. For instance, in a magazine ad contract there is price, size, number of issues, and position. Make a note of how much you care about each dimension.

Car salesmen want the other party to throw out the first offer. Don’t worry about that. If the other party is scared to start then offer your favorite deal. But I don’t want to leave money on the table! Calm down and don’t be greedy. You already decided that your favorite deal will make you happy so be grateful if it gets accepted.

Don’t tell the other party how great some aspect of the deal is for them. They can judge for themselves. That makes you seem pushy and desperate.

Don’t tell the other party that they should do the deal because you really need or want it. Your needs are irrelevant. “But Mom, I reeeeeeally want it!” is not compelling.

During the negotiation, offer some ground on the dimensions you least care about. You may be surprised that those are the things the other party wants the most. If the atmosphere is relaxed enough then you can both simply tell each other which dimensions you care most about. Often you can quickly come to a deal when you both realize you have complementary desires.

If the other party won’t offer at least your minimum then simply let them know what your minimum is. If they still won’t budge then politely tell them the deal is off. Don’t act offended.

Never display negative emotions like anger or frustration. Those are counterproductive in negotiations and every other part of business. Throughout a negotiation be friendly and use grown up words like hello, please, and thank you.

Surely I did not invent something new here. My guess is that this system is what every successful negotiator arrives at after much experience.