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Becoming a Black Belt Negotiator

By Michael Soon Lee

How would you like an extra $5,000 to $10,000 or more a year? This money can be earned simply by becoming a better negotiator, yet most people in the United States rarely take advantage of the power of bargaining, except on rare occasions when making large purchases like cars and houses. In other countries, like Asia, people there negotiate everything everyday and save thousands.

Negotiating is like a martial arts contest where power, leverage and timing can mean the difference between winning and losing. In martial arts the black belt symbolizes mastery of the craft and there are seven major belts that you must master before being awarded the highest honor.

Beginners in martial arts start out as white belts. This symbolizes purity and lack of knowledge like a seed waiting to germinate. Likewise, in negotiating there are indicators that you are a novice such as not being aware that everything is negotiable under the right circumstances. Not only cars and houses can be subject to haggling in the United States even such items as death and taxes can be negotiable as well. For instance, if you can negotiate better healthcare you are likely to live longer and if you can reduce your taxes you instantly increase your standard of living. The author regularly receives a “good patient” discount from his dentist because he always pays his bills promptly and, when representing clients before the IRS, has gotten the agency to forgive tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes.

The second rank is usually the yellow belt and represents the seed reaching for the sun and getting ready to grow. In martial arts you prepare for a contest by spying on your opponent to find any weaknesses. In negotiating you do the same thing by doing your homework about the party you are bargaining with. For example, if you’re buying a diamond ring what are the attributes that make one more valuable than the other and what’s the lowest price you can find the one you want on the Internet?

The third belt is green, which symbolizes the seed beginning to sprout. In martial arts you learn how to warm up by stretching your muscles so you don’t injure yourself. In negotiating you warm up by building rapport with the other party through small talk. Many amateur bargainers miss this step, which is crucial because people like to do business with people they like.

The fourth belt is blue symbolizing the plant reaching for the sky. In martial arts you practice your punching and blocking techniques. At this stage in the bargaining process you learn to respond to offers in a way that doesn’t give away your intentions. For example, if a seller offers you a five percent discount you should reply, “You’ll have to do better than that.” This implies that their offer isn’t good enough with you putting anything on the table yourself.

The fifth belt is usually brown calling to mind the plant becoming firmly rooted into the earth. In martial arts this is the stage when you learn to use time effectively in a tournament. Negotiators at this level know that it’s crucial to set deadlines for the other party otherwise there is no pressure to come to agreement. Savvy bargainers know that if you give people all day to make up their minds they will take all do. They are also aware that the one with the least time pressure usually wins.

The sixth belt is red symbolizing the setting sun and the fact that the plant has matured. This is the stage where martial artists learn to always be on guard because there can be unfair fighters who will kick you when your back is turned or even hit you below the belt. Similarly there are dirty fighters in negotiating who try to trigger your emotions by insulting you or those who will try to renegotiate a contract after signing it. Experienced negotiators do not allow themselves to get emotionally involved and protect themselves against renegotiations by always saving something for the end for such events.

The final belt is black meaning that the highest level of skill has been achieved. However, just like in martial arts, the learning never stops. In fact, there are actually ten degrees of black belts each one harder than the last. In negotiating you can never stop learning if you want to be a master. There are many ways to improve your bargaining skill such as going to garage sales and flea markets and to constantly look for opportunities to bargain.

Read other articles and learn more about Michael Soon Lee.

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