Negotiation is a big part of meeting-planning culture. Everything is up for negotiation: hotel rates, meeting-room rates, parking, food and beverage, and more. To perform your job professionally in this field and to serve your religious organization well, you must become a skilled negotiator.

You are more valuable to your religious organization if you bring added value to it. If you are a skilled negotiator, then you are providing a valuable service to your religious organization.

If you have ever played tennis, racquetball, or chess, you know that it's not fun to play someone whose skill level is much better than yours. And playing someone who isn't nearly as good as you are isn't enjoyable or productive. The same is true for negotiating.

But if you're not a skilled negotiator, don't despair. Negotiating is a skill that can learned; it's an area in which you can improve. The better you become at negotiating, the more comfortable you will be.

The following are fundamentals of negotiating. Use these as the starting point for improving your negotiating skills.

  • Every time you arrange a meeting, you should be thinking in terms of a negotiation strategy.

  • Do your homework; knowledge gives you strength. Research the market for the area in which your meeting will be held. What are the hotels offering? What are other groups paying for the years you're interested in? What are the RAC rates?

  • Did you make the other person feel as if they got a good deal? Never, ever jump at an offer with overwhelming enthusiasm, no matter how great you think the deal is. If you do, you probably will make the other person regret the entire deal. They will feel that they gave in too easily, as if they gave away too good of a deal.

  • Did you come away feeling that you got a good deal? Know that although you can come to an agreement, you will not always feel happy about it. The phrase win-win is used a lot, and the reality of that phrase is that both sides come away with an agreement they can live with, and an agreement that will continue the relationship. Win-win does not mean that both sides are ecstatic. Remember that you are not there to make the other person lose.

  • Don't be the first to quote a price. If you are asked for your budget, you shouldn't lie, but you can say that “the budget is not finalized,” or “I am just doing my research,” or “I am shopping around to determine what the fair market value is.” The vendor is selling the product, and eventually is obligated to tell you what the prices are.

  • The reality is that sometimes you cannot reach an agreement. You are in a position of negotiating strength when you have the ability to walk away.

    Can you walk away without severing a potential future relationship? If you have to walk away, try to do so without damaging the relationship. If you have to, blame your board of directors.

    Don't indicate that you will “do whatever it takes” to reach an agreement. If you do, you will get a bad deal. At the same time, you want to communicate that you would like to work out a deal.

  • If it's difficult to find common ground, there will come a time when you have to ask direct questions. For example, “What is the lowest price you will give me for these rooms and still be profitable?”

  • Silence will not hurt you. Silence puts pressure on the other side and sends the signal that the deal they offered isn't the “best deal ever.”

  • After receiving a quote, always ask: “Is that quote flexible?”

  • Test the waters — ask for more than you expect to receive. This strategy makes you appear flexible, which is very important in negotiating.

    Consider this scenario: Your group wants to use a particular conference for a meeting. You have done your homework and learned that the conference center's rates for the time of year you need are $90-99. You also know that the conference center really wants your meeting, because the potential exists for repeat business from your group.

    Given that information, what would your opening bid proposal be? Your opening proposal should be less than $90. Why? Because you already know that the conference center would accept a proposal of $90, and you know that the center might be willing to go lower, due to the potential for future business.

    Don't make ridiculous opening bid proposals, but you must not fear asking for prices that you think are reasonable, given the market and the value of your meeting.

  • If you accept the property's original price, then you are not negotiating and you aren't doing your job professionally. If your job is to plan meetings, and you simply find space and accept the first prices that are given to you, then your work is not as valuable to your organization as it could or should be.

  • If you are under time pressure, your negotiating position is weakened. Never reveal that you are under a deadline, unless it is to your advantage.

  • Following each negotiation, analyze what happened and identify ways to improve.

The article was based on a past RCMA tutorial led by Charles Melear, conference planner, United Church of God.

Going Deeper

Want to learn more about negotiating? Consider these books, all regarded as excellent texts on the fundamentals of negotiating.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, Bruce Patton (ed.), Bruce Patton.

Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People 2nd Edition, by G. Richard Shell, director of the Wharton Executive Negotiation Workshop.

Harvard Business Essentials Guide to Negotiation