Everything is negotiable, the saying goes, but smart negotiators know they have to prioritize their needs, wants, and interests. That’s just one of the eight tips given by presenter Jonathan Howe, Esq., president and founding partner, Howe and Hutton Ltd., during a packed session, “How to Successfully Negotiate Anything,” at the recent meetings industry conference.

1. Must haves versus wants. Needs are defined as the things you must have in the contract, while wants are things that are important, but aren’t absolutely necessary. Interests are items that would be great to have, but aren’t essential. By prioritizing, you’ll have a much better chance of getting the things you really need, even if it means giving up something else less important.

2. It’s not about win/win. Howe is not a proponent of the idea of a win/win proposition, because, in his opinion, it’s not about winning. “This is not a contact sport,” he said. “What we want to do is develop a partnership and share in the risk and the reward.”

3. Information is power. “The more we know, the better we can negotiate,” Howe said. A good salesperson—whether it’s the meeting planner selling a meeting or a hotel representative selling the property—doesn’t “sell” anything, he said. “They get you to buy something.” And how they get you to buy something is by presenting persuasive information. For planners, the information might be the number of attendees, food and beverage requirements, past history, etc. For hoteliers, good information might be when is the hotel’s slow season.”

4. Don’t assume. Ask questions, be specific, and know what the words mean, said Howe. Don’t, for example, just ask if the facililty has a freight elevator, ask how much freight the elevator can handle. He had one client who didn’t ask what the weight limits were and when the meeting came around, they found out they couldn’t use it.

5. Follow the 80/20 rule. Spend 80 percent of your time listening and asking questions and 20 percent talking.

6. Be wary of the inflexible. What do you do if the other party says they use only their own contracts, and they are completely inflexible? Parties should be at least willing to consider looking at your contracts and piecing together a contract that works for both sides.

7. Get face to face. How many of us negotiate face to face? “Body language can reveal a lot about the bargaining position of the person across the table,” said Howe. He recommends negotiating in person whenever possible.

8. Give and get. If it’s important to you, put it in the contract. There may be other things you can give up to get it. But just as you may have to give something up to get something, the reverse is also true. “Never give something up unless you get something in return,” Howe advised. Ultimately, it’s important to treat the other side with respect and seek contracts that have two-way benefits.