How to Master the Art of Negotiating

Webster’s Dictionary defines negotiation as “the act or process of having a discussion in order to reach an agreement.” Makes sense, but what does it really mean? According to veteran hospitality attorney Lisa Sommer Devlin, “Negotiating is about bargaining power. The more the other party needs your business, the more they will be willing to compromise.”

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Lawyers say that a good deal is one in which both sides feel that they gave more than they wanted to give. That’s usually the sign of compromise. And after all, compromise is at the heart of every negotiation.

So how do you master the art of give and take? You’ll need to be open to accepting that you really can’t win ’em all. But with a little finesse, patience and preparation, you might find you get what you need. Here are six tips to get you started.

1. Do your homework. It seems obvious, perhaps, but most negotiators fail at this critical step. Being prepared means not only knowing exactly what is important for you and your attendees, but also knowing what the other side wants and why they want it. Being prepared leads to confidence, which is key to negotiating wins.

2. Ask (skillful) questions, especially about changes. Suppliers should be able to explain everything in their contract, and the cost should make sense. If something doesn’t make sense, it’s perfectly reasonable to get clarification. Don’t walk away until everything is clear.

3. Be a good listener. It’s not enough to ask questions; it’s just as important to know how to listen—actively. Active listening means you are paying close attention not only to the words being said, but also to the nuances between the lines: the emotions, energy and tone, for example, of the conversation.

4. Be thorough. When it comes to negotiating, it’s all in the details. Devlin recommends planners note dates, rates and space, at minimum, when starting negotiations, “along with a list of concessions you must have and those you would like to have. If you have specific contract terms that you expect, share them with your RFP, not after the business is agreed upon.”

5. Be flexible where possible. “Flexibility is always a plus,” Devlin says. “[For example], if you can be flexible on dates or event pattern, you will have more opportunity to get better deals.”

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6. Keep the other side in mind. “[For instance], try to find terms that help your budget without hurting the hotel’s bottom line. A $10 room rate reduction is a hard cost to the hotel, while a room upgrade (depending on availability) has less cost,” Devlin says. This can often be the biggest challenge for planners in negotiating.


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