Everyone wants to get ahead in life, but the question is how. Wheeling and dealing is often thought of as the act of making a profit or getting an advantage by deceiving people or breaking the rules. Pop culture music and films reaffirm that the road to riches is paved on the far side of the law. On the other hand, social media is flooded with “influencers” selling side hustle wolf tickets. Neither are the answer. I believe the one life skill everyone should focus on is negotiation, because negotiation is the process of getting to a desired outcome, which should be to get ahead in life.
Preparation has always been the foundation for future success, and desired outcomes require time and effort. It is the single most important step because preparation is when the strategic planning takes place. During this step it is important to plan around challenges, needs, objectives, and to try to understand the parties involved and the dynamics in play. It is also important to dispel negotiation myths surrounding ultimatums and bluffing during negotiations. Children may have success with ultimatums when they throw temper tantrums, and bluffing may work in poker, but if that is your negotiating strategy then you will be exposed as weak and incompetent.
Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
There are two ways that people communicate in a negotiation, verbally and non-verbally. What someone says during a negotiation is just as important as what they are not saying. The clarity, tone, or speed at which a person speaks can indicate nervousness or frustration and combining these indicators with non-verbal ones will give you a better idea of the situation. That is because our body is also sending signals through our actions, which can reveal how we are feeling. These actions can range from frowns and folded arms to posture and movements. Keeping an eye out for verbal and non-verbal signs should give you an advantage during a tense negotiation, but it will be difficult if you are unprepared and have to focus elsewhere.
Listening for and Seek Out Shared Outcomes
Misunderstandings tend to be the root cause of disagreements and that is why it is important to be a good listener during negotiations. During negotiations, parties can not afford to misunderstand each other because it can lead to unexpected reactions and a complete breakdown of negotiations. One way to avoid this is to start of by repeating what you heard the other party say and end it by asking them if you understood correctly. This action comes across as sincere, honest and with humility. It allows you to avoid misunderstandings. A mutual understanding between parties is important because it leads to shared outcomes, which are crucial for long-term success.
Applying the Basics
With anything we do in life, it takes time to become good at things. Becoming a good negotiator will take time, it is an art form. I believe that the best starting point for beginners revolves around three points: preparation, communication, and listening. Do your homework, try improving the way you communicate, and seek first to understand then to be understood. These are the basics, but you can build on them by reading and applying what you learn.
If you want to learn how not to get ahead, I recommend watching 2016’s War Dogs, which is based on a true story of two young men that tried hustling their way to the American Dream by dealing arms internationally. While it is perfectly legal way to earn a living, there are strict international laws that need to be adhered to when it comes to selling arms. However, the two young men try to wheel and deal their way to riches, with a re-emerging theme of poor negotiating skills, and it costs them, leading to many laughs for the audience.