10 Negotiation Tips for IT People

Negotiation skills are key no matter what your role

They have it, you want it. How do you get it? You negotiate, and it happens far more often than you realize.

Before we start, let's agree on a definition."A negotiation is the effort to bring about an agreement between two or more parties, with all parties having the right to veto." Notice a negotiation is "an effort to bring about an agreement" and not the agreement. Many negotiations fail, and you need to understand that and plan for failure. But the more you know about the process, the fewer failures and more successes you will have, personally and professionally.

Start with No, but Understand that a "No" Means "Let's Keep Talking"

Since the goal is to get your negotiation counterpart to say yes, it seems backwards to "start with no." Acknowledge the other party has the "right to veto" which means saying no to any proposal you offer. If you can't say no, you don't have a negotiation, you have a surrender, and they hold all the leverage. How do you feel when you can't say no to someone, like your boss or your spouse?

When you tell the other party no, you have a chance to offer your ideas. If you've ever seen a child "negotiating" with a parent for candy at the grocery store, when the parent says no the child doesn't stop asking. Eventually, almost every parent says yes. Saying no opens the door to explore other options, and the other party feels more comfortable realizing a "no" doesn't mean "stop" but rather "let's keep talking."

Many people start a conversation by asking,"is now a good time to talk?" They give you a chance to say no right at the start, and few people do.

Know Your Subject

The more you know before starting a negotiation, the better you will do. Know your product, service, and preferred result so well that explaining the benefits to the other party comes as natural as breathing. Know your options, and know the limits of what you can exchange to get the results you need.

Know the other party as well as you know your own goals. When you understand their goals, you can then focus on what makes their situation better in order to reach an agreement. Know their objectives, and create for them an emotional understanding of how your products and services will satisfy their goals.

Helping a customer make changes to your software? The more you understand what they need rather than what they say, the happier they will be.

Decisions Are Emotional

No matter how logical they think they are, people make decisions based 100 percent on emotion. Immediately after, they intellectually rationalize or reject the decision they made emotionally. Scientific studies, including brain scans, verify this.

In IT parlance, users want faster file access and smoother streaming video, not details about speeds and feeds and 10GB Ethernet backbones. Intellectual arguments weaken emotional connections that lead to decisions. How? By confusing and hindering the emotional side of the brain needed to make the decision. Focus on the vision you create for the other party, detailing how they will benefit from your suggestions, then follow with the details to help them intellectually rationalize their emotional decision.

Build a Vision

No one agrees to anything if they can't visualize the advantages they will enjoy after they say yes. If you're selling data backup systems, you don't want to create visions of gleaming hard disks replicating data. You want to create visions of lost time and money after a hard disk full of non-backed up data grinds to a halt, and how much time and money they will lose trying to restore files from their current, inadequate, system.

Understand what you want the other party to do, then guide them to the vision of a better future with your help. Lead them to imagine the positive emotions they will feel after your negotiation, and back up those good feelings with the data they need to feel intellectually comfortable. Even the most logical people say things like "my perception is," or "I see it differently," which refers to vision rather than logic.

Backup is boring, but restoring lost files is exciting. Focus on restoring, and the backup will get approved.

Ask Questions

How do you create a vision for others to consider? Ask great questions, because questions drive vision. Begin each question with a verb or an interrogative, such as, "Should you do this?" or "Do you have five minutes to see me?" Interrogatives make for more powerful questions than verbs. An example of a remarkably powerful yet simple question is "What would you like me to do?"

Don't make statements such as "That software can't do that" but rather ask it in the form of a question, such as "How do you get that software to do that?" Statements can be refuted and proven to be wrong. Questions keep the discussion active.

Shut Up and Listen

After you ask a question, shut up and listen. As the old saying goes, you have one mouth but two ears, and use them in proportion. When you really listen to the other party, you are in control. For maximum control, let the other party talk as long and about as many things as possible. The more a vendor talks about how wonderful their product is, the more you'll learn about ways others are using that product.

The safest and most useful questions begin with the interrogatives who, what, when, where, why, how, and which. They don't challenge the other party or put them on the defensive but they encourage others to talk and describe the world they want to see. In other words, you're asking them to create the vision of their future you can help them attain. So keep your mouth shut and your ears open.

Have a Plan B

Negotiation geeks use the acronym BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). Most people call it Plan B, as in what to do if the other party refuses to accept the vision you create for them and end the negotiation.

Traditionally, the party with the least to lose holds more power, because they can stop negotiating and move on with less pain. More needy means more desperate, and more likely to agree to a bad deal. Every time you negotiate, understand your Plan B. Buy servers from a different vendor? Move on to the next sales prospect? Agreeing is good, but moving on is always better than a bad agreement.

Negotiations Are Everywhere

Our definition at the beginning didn't limit negotiations to business. Every agreement between two or more parties, personally and professionally, includes negotiations. Want an extra day or two off during the holidays? Rather go to the restaurant you like rather than your husband's favorite? Need to extend a service agreement on a month-to-month basis rather than sign up for another full year?

Be open and honest, ask questions, tell the other party they can say no, and listen to what they say. When your vision of the future matches theirs, you have a deal.

IT Negotiation Issues

More than most other disciplines, IT demands logical details, facts, and figures. If you don't know the technology, the other party will give you little respect and your negotiated results will suffer. Become an expert in the technology and the details before you meet the other party.

Technical people pile up reams of data so they can emotionally feel safe after they make their emotional decisions. They search for data to ease the emotional fear of being wrong. No matter how much you believe in the intellect, remember that decisions are made emotionally. But in technical discussions, the details will be relied on more than in most cases, so keep those reams of data close to help rationalize the agreement.

IT Negotiator Considerations

Some IT people work very hard at building their interpersonal skills, and some, well, don't. If you are one of those who struggle with soft skills, tell the other party right up front. Throw away your negotiation baggage and break down the barriers to open communication. Tell the other party, "If I'm not clear, tell me so we can start over and make it clear."

In the Mac and PC commercials, PC always has the facts but Mac creates a much better vision of problem free computing. Regardless of your choice of computer operating system, remember which side in the commercial pushes facts, and which side offers an emotionally resonant decision with a vision of a successful future. Create your own emotionally resonant option, help the other party accept that vision of the future, and your negotiations will improve.


A famous negotiation example details two sisters who both want the single orange left in the house. Neither would back down, so they compromised in the traditional "win-win" type of settlement. Neither got exactly what she wanted, and they cut the orange in half. However, one sister wanted the rind for cooking, and the other sister wanted the fruit for eating. If they had communicated, they both would have been happy.

Remove pressure by letting the other party say no, and ask the right questions to help them see the same vision of the future you see. This avoids the traditional "lose-lose" result our orange-loving sisters reached by compromise. Wouldn't a snack and warm orange muffins be better than getting half of what is really needed? That's the value of modern negotiation.


Jim Camp, author of Start with No: The Negotiating Tools that the Pros Don't Want You to Know and No: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home. http://www.startwithno.com/

Jeffrey Krivis, author of Improvisational Negotiation: A Mediator’s Stories of Conflict about Love, Money, Anger—and the Strategies That Resolved Them. http://www.firstmediation.com/

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon