Negotiators come out ahead by creating win-win deals that help build lasting relationships, said Ron Shapiro, speaking at this year’s ULI Washington Real Estate Trends Conference. Now a New York Times bestselling author, Shapiro has previously worked as a top sports agent and attorney.

Shapiro said that negotiation is not—or should not be—about battle, conflict, and confrontation. “You need to take ego out of your approach,” he said. “It’s about negotiation, not ego-tiation.” You also have to be a good listener, searching for points of agreement, and understanding your alternatives.

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“Win-win negotiations are ones that satisfy your interests very well, and satisfy the other side’s interests acceptably,” he remarked. “In order to get what you want, help them get what they want.”

“Win-win does not mean ‘wimp-wimp,’ ” he went on. “Use tools that empower you to be nice, do good deals, and build good relationships.” Those tools, he said, can be summarized by three words beginning with the letter P: prepare, probe, and propose.

Preparation means doing a lot of research in advance and coming to a negotiation with a checklist, covering such items as the following:

  • Comparable deals.
  • The other party’s patterns of conduct.
  • The wants and needs of the other side—probe for undisclosed interests.
  • Alternatives: What is your highest goal? What is your walk-away point? What are other options to consider if the deal does not work out?
  • Strategy to achieve your objectives, including a timeline and next steps.
  • Scripts covering the messages and proposals you want to make.

During the negotiation, you should probe. “Stop, question, and listen,” he said. “What is important to the other side? Why is it important? Answer questions with questions. Hypothesize. Ask them to tell you more. As the Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, nature has given men one tongue but two ears that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.”

Listening is not always easy, Shapiro noted. “People can tell when you are not listening,” he said. “Indicators include poor eye contact, distractions, interruptions, irrelevant responses, and poor body language.”

The final P in Shapiro’s strategy is “propose.” “Try not to make the first offer, and don’t accept their first offer immediately,” he advised. “When making offers, set high goals, as long as they are within reason.” Then he quoted the old English proverb: “Much is lost for the want of asking.”

“You don’t have to assert power as an aggressive antagonist, and you don’t have to be reactive or defensive,” Shapiro concluded. “Remember that negotiation is a process, not an event, and empower yourself to do win-win deals.”