Before I tell you about the best books on negotiation that I have read, I should tell you that I used to be a horrible negotiator. I mean, really awful. At the slightest sense of discomfort, I would give my power away to the other side. I was terrible at setting boundaries. I was selling myself short. I closed business deals that were not in my favor and attracted customers who were not a good fit.
If the customer wanted a better price, he got it. The customer wished to better payment terms; he got it. If the customer took advantage of me once, I would not set boundaries. So they took advantage of me again. I would get angry, resentful, and would lose my composure.
It took me years to overcome my doubts, acquire self-confidence and become an assertive negotiator. I owe my success to three books. These three books are the best books on negotiation that helped me re-frame negotiations and helped to improve my negotiating skills significantly.
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss
Chris Voss used to be a negotiator for the FBI. Most of his negotiating experiences come from communicating with kidnappers and criminals. In this book, he tells fascinating stories of how he managed to negotiate the release of people who had been kidnapped. Some of the stories outlined in this book are breathtaking and, at times, hilarious.
Voss explains the fundamental principles behind every negotiation. For example, a lightbulb moment for me was when he explains the importance of uncovering the other person’s weak spot. Every party involved in a negotiation will have a soft spot. Your job is to steer the negotiation until the other person reveals this weak spot.
For example, he tells the story of how Colombian kidnappers would kidnap people for the sake of having some money to party on the weekends. Most people assumed that these were professional kidnappers, when in fact, they were just silly kids. Voss could steer the negotiation in a different direction by getting these kidnappers to reveal their motives, leading to the hostages being released.
Perhaps the most significant takeaway from this book was using the “How am I supposed to do this?” line. I started applying this line in my business negotiations when customers began making unreasonable demands. By subtly shifting the question back to the other party, I could get more concessions out of them.
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury
Getting to Yes is the classic business negotiation book written over 30 years ago on negotiation strategy. It has been taught in thousands of MBAs and boardrooms. This book is so popular that it has amassed close to 5000 reviews on Amazon.
While the other two books on negotiation in this article have a somewhat edgy feel, this book has a much more corporate feel. It has been written for CEOs and managers. Although the book’s structure felt a bit stiff for me, the book is full of timeless advice that still works in today’s environment.
The most important takeaway from this book was that negotiation should never be seen as a conflict. Negotiation is a process that can be drawn out. The process can take as long as possible until both sides agree to a mutually beneficial solution. Too often, we tend to make negotiating all about winning, as an Us vs. Them fight. When in fact, both sides can leave the table feeling like winners.
Another critical takeaway in this book is that an initial refusal by the other party does not necessarily that the negotiation is over. Attempt to understand the other person’s position and what they need to get the deal to work. Too often, we are so engrossed in our own needs that we forget that we are dealing with a person across the table with entirely different motives.
Winning Through Intimidation by Robert Ringer
Personally, if I see a book with the word intimidation in the title, I would probably pass it over. But the book came recommended by a person whose opinion I greatly trust. I started reading the book, and I was immediately blown away.
Ringer wrote the original version of this classic sales book in 1975. Ringer was a real estate agent who would put together big commercial deals. Every time he organized big deals, the buyers and the sellers of the properties would try to cheat him out of his commission. Ringer tells stories of the various tricks and tactics his customers would use on him.
If you have ever been pushed around and taken advantage of, then you must read this book. I spent many years being the nice guy, bending over backward to please people. This book is full of street-smart wisdom that I needed to hear.
My favorite takeaway from this negotiation book is when a customer says something like, “I want you also to make money from this deal.” This is a common line savvy negotiators use to squeeze more out of you. On a subtle level, they tell you to give them the least possible price because the other party does not care if you make any money from the deal.
That line rang a bell. I had not realized how many times customers had used this line to get a better price out of me. When I hear this line today, I am far more cautious. I understand the real motives behind this line.
Apply what you learn in practice from the best books on negotiation
As a final thought, I want to emphasize that just reading these three best books on negotiation will not make you a better negotiator. You need to apply what you learn, and it will take many attempts over several years to execute properly on this advice. But I promise you that if you start using the advice in this book, your negotiating skills will change for the better.
When I started testing out the “How am I supposed to do this?” line, I saw my counterparties back off from their demands.
If someone responded to my request with a no, rather than backing away, I persisted. I showed that I was serious about what I needed. And more often than not, the other side made a concession.
I keep on going back to these three books on negotiation as their wisdom is timeless. The fact that two of these books were written over 40 years shows that negotiation fundamentals have not changed much.
If you want to read more book recommendations, have a look at our suggestions for the best books for running an online business.