I never really gave much thought to all the training I have received until I started working at the bookstore. Of late, I've begun to realize that not only is that training invaluable in my current position, I use it without even thinking in my everyday dealings with my fellow humans. I've also noticed that very few of my fellow booksellers possess the skills that were drilled into me in my former sales positions.
The result is that I consistently outperform my coworkers in sales, leave the customer with a positive experience at our store, and rarely encounter situations with difficult customers that I cannot resolve to everyone's satisfaction. I began thinking recently that these skills could come in handy not just in a professional situation, but in many of the difficult situations an average person may encounter during the course of their day.
The following is an overview of the basic sales techniques that nearly anyone can acquire with just a little bit of practice. The results will speak for themselves as you apply the principles in situations where you hope to attain a win-win outcome.
First, let's discuss the "win-win" situation. With rare exceptions, the win-win outcome is the most desirable outcome of all in human negotiatons. Why? Because even though a clear-cut victory/defeat outcome may be temporarily satisfying in a situation where emotions run high, in the long term, it is counter-productive and can lead to greater difficulties later on. In a win-win situation, both parties leave feeling as if they have gained their objective. In victory/defeat, one party leaves feeling cheated and defeated, which engenders resentment. Resentment can lead to enmity, and enmity can lead the defeated party to either deliberately thwart you in the future, or spread ill will against you to other parties whose support you may need.
There are two key factors in creating a win-win situation. The first is obtaining a clear understanding of your own objective. What is it that you want from the other person? Friendship? Alliance in a cause? Alleviation of a problem? Their dog to stop digging in your garden?
Once you understand what your objective is, you need to determine if your cause is just. Remember, your cause is your "product" and if you don't believe in your own product, you won't be able to sell it to anyone else. You won't be able to outline the features and benefits of your plan, or convince the other party that they will also benefit from it, because deep down, you'll know the truth. In other words, you have to look at your situation objectively and ask yourself if you honestly believe your plan will benefit both parties.
After you understand your objective thoroughly, the next key factor is to understand the other party's current point of view. Remember at the outset that if that person saw things the way you do, there would be no conflict of interest and, hence, no need for negotiation. In order to win that person over, you need to know what their objective is and why they want it the way they want it.
The first step to understanding the other party's objective is to listen, openly and fairly, to their point of view. True listening is the art of putting yourself in their place and treating them as you would want to be treated. The golden rule. Everyone has reasons for feeling the way they do, and understanding those reasons is the key to overcoming objections.
Overcoming the other party's objections to your cause is the heart of the gentle art of persuasion. When I sold cars, one of the best sales managers I ever worked for told me that every customer is tuned to station WII-FM. In this metaphor, the radio call letters stand for "what's in it for me?" In order to convert someone to your point of view, you need to be prepared to outline the features and benefits of your plan to the person you wish to convert. Nobody ever bought into a deal that they thought was not to their benefit.
Let's go back to the case of the garden-digging dog. The neighbor's dog is eating your azaleas, digging potholes in your prize zoysia grass, peeing on your newly planted bushes and creating a general mess. Your objective is clear. Stop the dog from ruining your hard work at landscaping. You could, of course, just shoot or poison the dog. It happens all the time. But then you've earned yourself a neighbor for an enemy and possible retaliation from someone with whom it is better to have cordial relations. It would also be easy to see the problem as one which is entirely your neighbor's, but it isn't. It's your problem, too, as much as it would be if you had aphids on your tomatoes. So you're going to have to confront your neighbor and try to negotiate a win-win plan of action.
What is your neighbor's objective? The neighbor obviously has no stake in creating a next door enemy, but also probably doesn't care much about your azaleas. What your neighbor cares about is the dog. What you care about is your yard and protecting your investment in time, money and the future beauty of your environment. While it may seem that the two goals are mutually exclusive, tuning into your neighbor's station WII-FM can quickly convince you that there can be a win-win outcome.
Here is a sample scenario of how to negotiate with your neighbor:
Call or visit with a peace offering. In this case, perhaps a beautiful bouquet of freshly-cut flowers from your garden, or some fresh-baked zucchini bread made from your harvest. Let your neighbor know how much your garden means to you and show him the benefits of having such a garden with this subtle gesture.
Compliment your neighbor on his dog. It doesn't matter if the creature is the meanest, scroungiest example of a canine you have ever encountered. Your neighbor loves his dog and will appreciate it if you seem to understand.
Gently explain that you have encountered his dog in your yard and that, while this dog is obviously the finest beast to ever walk the face of the planet, he is causing you a problem in your efforts to garden successfully.
You: I understand that it can be difficult to control a dog in your yard. I've had similar experiences myself. But what I'm really worried about is the safety of good old Fido.
Neighbor: What do you mean?
You: Well, I worry that Fido might get into a yard owned by somebody less understanding. Or get hit by a car. Or become frightened and attack a teasing child. Or drink antifreeze left out by a careless shade-tree mechanic.
Neighbor: (nodding) I know what you mean. I worry about that, too, but what can I do? Sometimes the dog just slips out, like when a delivery man comes to the door.
You: (also nodding) I understand. ("I understand" are the two most powerful words one can use in a negotiation.) I've been thinking about what we can do, and here's my plan. They have those "invisible fences" out now, and while they aren't cheap, they aren't terribly expensive either. I'd be willing to help you install one, and I'd even help you with the cost if you can't afford one right now. It would protect both my garden and your dog. Could I drive you down to the hardware store this weekend so we can investigate?
Neighbor: You know, I was thinking of getting one of those. When would you like to go?
Problem solved. This is only one example of how gentle persuasion and negotiation can benefit you in everyday life. A careful examination of any conflict you encounter will highlight these same concepts and give you the tools for a solution. With a bit of practice, you can turn almost any situation into one that is win-win for everyone involved.