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Achieving Negotiating Mastery… and Keeping it Fun

Keith Stacey
Achieving Negotiation Mastery And Keeping It Fun (1)

K. Anders Ericson, an authority in the field of mastery of skills, estimates that across many fields from music to chess, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. The good news is that everyday living provides heaps of opportunities to practice negotiating skills.  


Let me share a (rather awkward) story about my recent purchase of a new mattress. 


We all seem to regularly update household items: televisions, dryers, washing machines, lounges etc... but a mattress is sort of an exception - we can find ourselves using it long past its ‘use-by date’.  


Maybe because it’s invisible under the topper and bed clothes - out of sight, out of mind?  Or maybe because the cost of living always seems to be going up, and it just doesn’t seem to get to the top of the list.   


Anyway, last week when I realised my mattress might be creeping towards two decades of use, one of the coils finally broke through the layers of fabric and I knew it was time to ‘bite the bullet’. 


This is where some fascinating negotiating lessons were to be found: 


The first was that I had loyalty to a retailer who had, without even a smirk, accepted the return of a bed and mattress that had proven too big for my spare room.  My measurements of the space had been … wrong. 


As an experienced negotiator I understood the power of reciprocity, and it was my turn to give back.  


Even in a seeming transactional environment, building good relationships is important. 


The second was that I wasn’t doing this naively - I was seeking a competitive price based on careful research.  


As always, good relationships and good deals should complement each other. 


A price was agreed, and I then asked: “Can you take the old mattress away?”  


The automatic response was ‘no’, because waste disposal places charge $30 per mattress. 


I should have made the removal a condition of the sale. (Sigh) 


“If you agree to remove the old mattress, then I’ll pay the asking price.”   


That’s all it would have taken. It would have had the power of a proposal, rather than asking a question after the event.  


As the strategic error dawned on me, I realised that I’d been far too comfortable in the relationship space and hadn’t made my proposal irresistible.  


All I needed to do was to create the impression that this was a tough ask. On hearing the price, I could have paused, and said, “That’s going to be a bit of a stretch post-Christmas…….(longer pause) and then I could’ve made a proposal about removal being included in the price. 


Anyway, delivery day finally came along with a rainstorm - a deluge might be a better way to describe it - just at the very moment that the mattress was about to be off-loaded.   


Filled with dread, I visualised myself wrestling a sodden mattress onto the back of my ute, securing it, driving to a local, muddy tip face and trying to slide it off. I was so not looking forward to it.   


Suddenly enlightened, I called the retailer again and blurted: “If your driver agrees to take away the old mattress, I’ll give him $50.”  


Response: “Yep.  Just give him the money.”  


This was a great deal for me as I’d saved an hour and a half, a certain soaking and a possible car wash.  


Having learned the lesson at the point of purchase, I took control of the process and paid a realistic price for the value I gained.  Honing negotiation skills is a lifelong challenge.  


Keep practicing your skills in daily life.  It can be a bit dispiriting at times, but if you keep your sense of humour and you can still laugh at yourself, it can (almost) be fun.  


Happy negotiating!  

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