According to Malcolm Gladwell, an expert is someone who has devoted 10,000 hours to practice. After this point you are a virtuoso in your field. Which is great... once you have completed those 10,000 hours.
For those who are working on making those hours, situations can be somewhat daunting, especially as that road is paved with a lot of bad mistakes. Most of us when we enter our chosen profession have far less than 10,000 hours under our belts which, for the most part, isn't that bad. We can always refer to reference materials or (hopefully) a guiding hand of either a superior or a co-worker.
There are some situations however where it just doesn't work out that well, when what 'You Should Have Done' is a lesson learned, but can't change what you did.
If you mess up a web design, you can fix it. Wire it improperly, you blow a fuse and you can fix it. Mess up the books... You'll get some pretty hard looks and likely reprimanded (or pay penalties to the government) but you can fix it. But there are times when dealing with others that just 'fixing it' isn't quite that easy. Some of us are soft in our 'soft skills'
Negotiating is an example of this. Once you've agreed... that's it. It's done. Our lives are nothing but negotiating. Why we avoid negotiating has more to do with avoiding conflict, but you are selling yourself short if you do.
I was a prime example of this. When negotiating I used to have a tendency to get wound up, frustrated, and inarticulate. In general I would avoid negotiating to avoid feeling frustrated. But that didn't get me any better at it. What got me better at it was practice.
We've all heard 'You never get a second chance to make a first impression.' It is often 'You'll never get a second chance from a poor impression.' This plays out in countless interviews. I've been on the interviewers side of the table many times and I only wonder why people aren't better prepared.
So why, when we know so much is on the line do so many people not bother to practice? And, though some people do practice, they may be doing it poorly.
So here are a couple of tips about practicing for interactions and being ready to negotiate.
Avoid just mulling on it: If you are having fantasies along the lines of 'When he says _____, then I'll tell him right to his face…' stop.
All this does is build anxiety and actually creates a bad space for you to perform well. You don't want to do this badly, you want to do this well, and rehearsing (because that is what you are doing mentally) anything less than your best intentions is only going to get in the way. Casting them as a villain in your mind will work against you when you do meet with them face to face.
Write it out: Write out what your concerns are and what you want, then put some structure to it. Figure out what questions might actually be asked, what questions you want to ask, and then what it is that you want to express, ask for, and say.
Practice listening: Really think about questions to ask, and what sort of answers they might give you. The job isn't to then think up more answers and arguments to those questions, it is to think about more questions. You need to find out what the underlying needs are, not the surface needs. You want to be sure that when you enter into the situation that you are ready to not only express your needs, but to deeply uncover what their needs are.
Practice asking questions: Practice asking those questions. Good questions will move the conversation along. The tone you use and your body language will play a large part in how it is received. Questions will give space for understanding, agreement and concessions. Find the common ground and show how where your beliefs align. You may discover that concerns were only perceived.
Practice answering questions: What do they want to know? How will you put their minds at ease? Tell your story. Separate the people from the situation.
Really practice: Thinking things through in your head can lead to all sorts of bad habits. Play it out instead so that you are sticking to it and carrying it through, even if you do make some mistakes. Say it out loud, watch in a mirror, or video tape it. You should be aware of what kind of signals you are sending off to the other person. If you have a friend who has time, have them play act it out with you. Or, if it means a lot to you and your company, set up a simulation with people you don't know to get as much realistic no holds barred feedback as you can.
Have a BATNA: Think about your 'Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement'. It is a great thing to have in your pocket. It isn't a threat or something to be pulled out and waved in their face. It is you knowing what you can and will do if the negotiation isn't right for you, what the next steps you would take would be in that case. The reason that this is so helpful, is that it will ease your mind when you go in. You will still work for what you want in the situation, but should things fall apart you have a plan.
Keep a log: If you want to improve quickly, keep a log. Write down what happened, it can be brief little notes, bullet points, whatever works for you. Not only will you improve faster, and see the changes, but you will also have things documented which is always a good idea in any business dealing.