"Making a deal" is such a seamy phrase, isn't it? It sounds like a game show, or a handshake contract between grifters, or something greedy and ethics-challenged real estate magnates force on anyone they can.
It's too bad, because the ability to make a great deal is an essential career skill. Put aside the gross connotations and this is the heart of it: I want something. You want something. Let's see if we can exchange money, time, information, products, or skills, so we both get what we want.
Luckily, we're social beings who often instinctively get how to get along and collaborate. But what if you're a bit shy? What if your deal-making partner has more power than you? What if you feel both aggressive and whiny when you try?
It's okay. Ethical, effective, mutually beneficial deal-making can be learned — and applied to all kinds of situations, like negotiating for a pay raise or gunning for a new job. It's all about figuring out what each person wants and trading the right resources to make the "wants" come true.
Here are three strategies for strengthening your ability to cut a deal to further your career, solve a problem, or complete that dang group presentation slide deck at last.
1. Stop making it all about you.
Deal are good deals when both sides get their needs met. Yet, you may feel a lot of pressure to get what you need, whether it's a larger cubicle or a quick discount from a vendor. You might hold so tightly to your needs, out of stress or uncertainty, that you can't clearly see the other person's position.
But you make better deals when you truly understand the pressures on your counterparty. Natalie Reynolds of advantageSPRING writes in The Guardian that "the real set of pressures and priorities that we should be thinking about exist in the head of our counterparty. Even if they do come across as powerful and intimidating, they too will have deadlines, expectations from colleagues and demands from their boss."
2. "Rank order" your priorities.
Leadership coach Kristi Hedges cites this tip from Adam Grant in her Forbes post on negotiation tactics. You know about the "dealbreaker," the one thing you must have (or not have) to move forward. Grant recommends a different approach called "rank ordering."
Instead of focusing on a single outcome, list all of them in the order of importance to you. You can "achieve better outcomes by ranking and leaving all the issues on the table and being transparent about it. That way both parties can compare their rankings and determine what the full set of options really are," says Grant.
Transparent rank ordering gives you and your deal partner more material to actually cut the deal. The deal becomes not a fight, but a shared problem to solve.
3. Make the first move.
Grant and his colleague Adam Galinsky are adamant that people who make the first move in deal-making often get more of what they want. In fact, research backs up their stand.
"The reason is the psychological principle of anchoring. Whatever the first [offer] is on the table, both parties begin to work around it. It sets the stage," writes Hedges. We might be worried about putting the other person off, but a confident, thoughtful, even aggressive first move sets you up for a positive, successful deal.
Whatever it is you want that involves other people — sustainable investment portfolios or world peace — deal-making is how you're going to get it. The more you practice, the better you'll become.