Negotiating is a critical life skill to master, but yet it’s largely untaught in a traditional school setting. We encounter negotiating everyday. Whether closing a sale, haggling over a price, or discussing a raise in the workplace. While you may already be an effective negotiator, consider the following strategies to help maximize your negotiating skills.

Negotiating does not have to be a zero-sum game. When two parties enter into negotiations, they are both looking to create something of value that did not exist before. Instead of taking an adversarial approach, think about how both parties can arrive at a mutually beneficial solution. Without abandoning your own interests and objectives, consider the interests of your negotiating partner. Reflect on what your priorities might be if you were in your partner’s shoes and how you can best accommodate those priorities. Remember, your partner is wondering – what’s in it for me?

Do Your Homework

Before approaching the bargaining table to negotiate an important deal, make sure you are fully prepared. If, for example, you are attempting to sell a product at a certain price, have evidence on hand to justify your price, such as information or testimonials about the quality of the product relative to similar products in the marketplace and about the prices of equivalent products offered by competitors. If necessary, practice with a business partner or coworker, asking for feedback and advice on how you can improve your arguments and presentation.

Find out as much as you can in advance about your negotiating partner so that you can explain in detail why what you are offering is ideally suited to meet his or her specific needs. It may be tempting to focus solely on the virtues of your company or product, but many clients will see through a one-size-fits-all sales pitch. In the course of your presentation, concentrate at least as much on your client’s needs as on the product or service offered. Your client will know if you have done your homework.

When you are the customer, come to the negotiating table with your questions about the offer as well as information about the prices for similar products or services available elsewhere. Have in mind an ideal price and how much you would be willing or able to deviate from that price if, for example, you were offered a volume discount, a maintenance contract, or free delivery.

Keep an Open Mind

As you approach the negotiating table, be sure to keep an open mind. Listen carefully to what your negotiating partner has to say, and think about whether you can offer a greater degree of flexibility than you initially anticipated. If necessary, ask for additional time to think about the terms before entering into an agreement.

The deal you are negotiating may be a big one. So be aware of any hidden agendas, and do not allow yourself to be pressured into signing a contract you do not fully understand. If you are attempting to close a sale, do not insist that a client make an immediate decision if he or she is not ready to do so. While pitching aggressively to get the sale may be effective in the short term, it may jeopardize your relationship with the client, and may damage your reputation for solid business practices.

Inevitably, some negotiations come to an abrupt halt when neither side is willing to compromise further. However, this may not be the end of the story. Even if you are unable to strike a deal, avoid showing any anger or irritation. Psychologically prepare yourself for the possibility that the initial round of negotiations may not go your way, and envision yourself gracefully accepting a negative outcome. Kindly and professionally, let your negotiating partner know how much you appreciate the time he or she has taken to discuss the transaction, leaving the door open for future communication. Even a session that ends in a deadlock can be useful in building a relationship that could result in future cooperation.

Negotiations with other business professionals can be tricky. But if you are prepared before you come to the table and remain open about the outcome, you can improve your negotiating skills and your chances of building your business.

Adapted from Financial Media Exchange with permission.