The average person needs about 800 hours of training to become an effective, natural negotiator. Negotiation techniques are an art and can be an efficient tool for achieving one’s goals. But which techniques work best, what role do gestures play, and when is it time to simply say “no?” Universia Knowledge at Wharton spoke with Javier Martinez Rodrigo, author of The Road of Negotiation, about negotiation strategies and some of the most common mistakes people make. His book is published by LearningMedia.

Universia Knowledge at Wharton: Is a business agreement the result of a thinking process or is it the result of the inborn talent of a business person who has the skill to improvise?

Javier Martínez Rodrigo: From what I’ve seen in my years of experience coaching and training professionals, both in sales and as a manager, I am convinced that “negotiators are not born; they are made.” Clearly, there are some people who seem to have been born for that. The innate talent of a salesman who is capable of improvising, for example, can save situations where negotiators have been exhausted or stymied. Nevertheless, to be an expert negotiator capable of achieving the best that could be hoped for means keeping in mind that negotiations must benefit both parties – [and] this is the result of reflection, analysis and practicing various techniques and methods habitually. Of course, they can be learned and practiced. Let’s not forget that an effective negotiation is composed of 10% technique and 90% attitude.

Universia Knowledge at Wharton: What are the stages that you have to plan for in a negotiation?

J.M.R.: The point of departure for beginning to negotiate is when both parties recognize that they need each other — although you don’t always begin a negotiation when the two parties meet for the first time. From that point on, it is fundamental to gain credibility because both parties have to consider themselves “valid participants.”

To sum up, we can talk about three phases in a negotiation: preparation, development and closing the deal.

The preparatory phase is what we do before we arrive at the negotiation table. It will be reflected in the way we behave when we get to it. We need to realize that when a negotiator comes to a negotiation table poorly prepared, he or she will be limited to reacting to events, rather than being able to manage them.

It is absolutely essential to determine who will be the leader — the one who assumes and defines the limits of authority and compromise. Once you have defined the composition of the negotiating team and their roles, you need to start trying to structure the information that you have to prepare for the negotiation (information about your side and your opponent’s). After that, you plan your negotiation, defining the strategy and tactics that will be employed.

When it comes to the information you need, it is important to establish your goals and the needs that must be satisfied in the negotiation; the risks you will assume; the repercussions of each predictable alternative, including failure to come to an agreement; the definition of minimum and maximum goals; points where negotiations can break down; and the desired location and agenda.

I emphasize two of the most common errors that we frequently commit when we are neither conscious of nor understand the possible places where talks can break down. One mistake is to abandon your efforts even when they are within the acceptable limits by the [other] company. A second mistake is to concede more than you should [to the other side]. These two examples reveal the importance of the preparatory phase.

The second phase involves development. We must be aware that in addition to face-to-face negotiations, many negotiations are carried out on the telephone every day. These, as well as the language [of negotiations], must be carefully considered when it is time to choose the leader from several possible candidates.

The second phase starts at the point when we sit down at the negotiating table, and continues until the discussions end with or without an agreement. During this phase, it doesn’t help to push for events to happen. It is preferable for ideas to gradually mature. As a general piece of advice, you need to be fully aware that when you present your position, you must try to pursue a strategy of “win-win,” one that is mutually beneficial. A mutually beneficial agreement will probably not be the best deal but it will be good enough for both parties. In any case, we must never react to pressure or to the other party’s threats by offering him concessions with the hope of pacifying him. That rarely works out.

Finally, we must not forget the post-negotiation phase or the closing phase. This phase remains open to developing future opportunities for both parties to continue cooperating, or to closing them off if adequate attention is not given to them. We can talk about various kinds of conclusions: surrendering; closing talks by providing two solutions so that the other party chooses one; ending with a summary; or closing with an ultimatum. (In such a case, only by closing then will we be able to maintain the conditions we’ve negotiated). Talks can also conclude by breaking down, or with efforts at intimidation.

Universia Knowledge at Wharton: What is the importance of non-verbal communication? What aspects do you have to be particularly careful about — such as crossing or not crossing your arms or legs, or looking people in the eye?

J.M.R.: Non-verbal communication is absolutely critical during the negotiating phase. Don’t forget that more than 80% of communication between parties is not verbal. So these are details that we must pay attention to, and make special preparations for.

The areas where you have to be especially careful are those that reinforce our internal calm. What makes us calmer during a negotiation? It is when there aren’t any loose ends; when our analysis has been exhaustive, sincere and objective. We present ourselves dispassionately and positively; we want to win, and we want others to win along with us. Every moment in a negotiation is a source of self-knowledge and wisdom. Our interior tranquility will make us show everything positive that we carry within us in our own non-verbal language. It is not easy to control what you don’t feel. If we try that in these circumstances, we will reveal non-verbal language that is contradictory. That is easy for an expert to detect and, believe me, we will always be dealing with an expert.

The most positive non-verbal language is displayed when we lean our bodies forward and smile. We move firmly and slowly, without any nervous ticks. We nod when we listen to the other person, to show that we are listening; that we hear and we understand.

Universia Knowledge at Wharton: Do you have any advice for closing a negotiation?

J.M.R.: Don’t allow the other person to leave the environment of the negotiation if you have even the slightest doubt that you haven’t gotten the best possible offer. Even if his offer is a little less compelling, make him see that the most important thing is for him to win, and you can continue to collaborate in the future. There is always another time, and everything that we sow now, we reap sooner or later. It makes sense to extol the skills and effort of the other person when you have achieved an agreement.

Universia Knowledge at Wharton: What pressure tactics exist in a negotiation, and what kinds of influence can they have?

J.M.R.: There are many pressure tactics in every negotiation, and you can get details about them in the book. But remember, they are only going to give you short-term results, and they can rapidly backfire against you. These tactics will always be detected and they are threats, hiding the truth and manipulation. It is always better to establish a relationship that is sincere, humane and mutually beneficial in order to obtain the best results of a negotiation.

An exciting display of victory must not exist in any negotiation because that always means that the other party feels humiliated. That is always unacceptable. If you believe that the other party does not see all the possible positives for him [in the agreement], then gracefully get him to see that. The greatest outcome in a negotiation is when the other party’s success is our success.

Nevertheless, some pressure tactics are, first, exhaustion, which involves hardening your own position without making any concessions, with the goal of exhausting the other party until he gives up. This tactic is also known as “The Great Wall.” A second pressure tactic is to attack — this means understanding intimidation for what it is and rejecting any attempt by the other party to calm things down. The real goal here is to intimidate. But you should neither offend nor humiliate. Third is recess — delaying the negotiations so you can gain time, analyze the state of the negotiations, and then break your adversary. Fourth is deception – with the goal to mislead the other party so you can persuade him to give in to your objectives.

Other tactics include the following: ultimatums; increasing your demands; pressing your case with a higher authority; playing the good guy; making the other party uncomfortable by choosing locations that make him feel undervalued (including continuously interrupting the negotiations with telephone calls); playing with time for your own benefit by extending meetings so that you exhaust the other party; haggling about every last detail; changing pace, and so forth. In any case, as I said earlier, if you use these tactics and the other party does not realize what is happening, your personal relationships wind up getting weaker.

Universia Knowledge at Wharton: What elements are critical in a negotiation? And what should people think less about?

J.M.R.: Sincerity, honesty, humanity and humility. We all want to win from a position of power. Nevertheless, frequently you win from weakness. We must remember that parties frequently abandon hard positions when they see weakness, and this is a golden opportunity for those who supposedly are weak.

Another piece of advice involves knowing how to listen. Your chances increase significantly when you listen and ask questions before you speak compulsively and unnecessarily. And finally, do not waste your time if you see that it is impossible to reach a satisfactory agreement!

Universia Knowledge at Wharton: How can you negotiate with someone who is more powerful or who refuses to participate in a negotiation? Is there something you can do?

J.M.R.: It makes sense to differentiate two terms involved in this question. As long as you don’t want to participate in a negotiation, no negotiation exists. In this case, the process must be preceded by another process of selling a good or service, so that the other party recognizes the needs that can be addressed with this alternative or the other party simply manifests a desire to begin.

It is very common when real estate is bought for the buyer to ask the price, and for the seller to mention the price before he has been assured that this is really the property that the buyer wants or likes, or that he is in a position to buy it. That’s the only way that there is any possibility for negotiation. The question that the seller should ask in this case is: Why mention the price to someone who is not ready to buy? When the seller mentions the price without the other party having recognized his desire to acquire the property, the most common answer is: “I will think about it,” or another indifferent response. As a result, the negotiation in this case will only begin when the other party recognizes his desire to buy it. The best time for achieving that is when you provide the price beforehand. In fact, born negotiators never talk about the price until the other party has recognized several times his goal to acquire the property. It is then — and only then — that we are in a good position to negotiate; that is, when the other party has expressed his genuine desire.

On the other hand, power in a negotiation gives us the ability to contribute something that the other party desires. If the other party is talking with us, it is because he desires or needs what we can give him, just as we want what the other party has. The feeling of power is a purely subjective one. In fact, if we look at the situation objectively, we realize that the forces are very equal, and that our perceptions are being damaged by our own weaknesses, complexes and perceptions, and by our haste and fear of [the word] “no.” If you have power and you want something, you do not negotiate; you simply take it. So, if we negotiate as equals, without any complexes, and not in haste, we achieve a good position of power.