As a kid, I practiced the art of negotiating daily with my parents and teachers. I continued to hone my skills as I grew, eventually buying a small, struggling envelope company. Over decades as a business owner and salesman, I've probably spent as much time in negotiations as any other part of my job. I know you can't negotiate anything unless you absolutely know the market. And I always let the other person talk first.

Those valuable lessons have become my ABCs of negotiating:

Ais for authority. Always, before you start any negotiation, look beyond the title and make sure that the person you're dealing with is in a position of authority to sign off on the agreement.

Bis for beware the naked man who offers you his shirt. If the customer can't or won't pay what the deal is worth, you don't need the sale.

Cis for contracts. The most important term in any contract isn't in the contract. It's dealing with people who are honest. Whenever someone says, "Forget the contract, our word is good enough," maybe yours is, but his or hers usually isn't.

Dis for dream. A dream is always a bargain no matter what you pay for it.

Eis for experience. When a person with money meets a person with experience, the person with the experience winds up with the money, and the person with the money winds up with the experience.

Fis for facts. Gather all the facts you can on both sides of the negotiation. Remember, knowledge does not become power until it is used.

Gis for guts. It takes plenty of guts to hold firm on your position, and just as many to know when to make concessions.

His for honesty. Not only is it the best policy, it is the only policy. Your reputation for honest dealings will keep doors open that get slammed in others' faces.

Iis for information. In the long run, instincts are no match for information.

Jis for judgment. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it is.

Kis for know about no. If you can't say yes, it's no. Period.

Lis for leaks. The walls have ears. Don't discuss any business where it can be overheard by others. Almost as many deals have gone down in elevators as elevators have gone down.

Mis for maybe -- the worst answer you can get.

Nis for never say no for the other person. Make them turn down the deal, not you.

Ois for options. Keep your options open, because the first negotiation isn't usually the only negotiation.

Pis for positioning. They can always tell when you need the sale more than they need the deal.

Qis for questions. Question every angle, motive and outcome. Not out loud necessarily, but so that you are satisfied that you understand the opposition's strategy and can respond.

Ris for reality check. In any negotiation, the given reason is seldom the real reason. When someone says no based on price, money is almost never the real reason.

Sis for smile -- and say no, no, no until your tongue bleeds. If the deal isn't right for you, stay calm, stay pleasant and just say no.

Tis for timing. People go around all their lives saying, "What should I buy? What should I sell?" Wrong questions: "When should I buy? When should I sell?" Timing is everything.

Uis for ultimatum. Never give an ultimatum unless you mean it.

Vis for visualization. If you can visualize your presentation, the objections that will be tossed back at you, and your response to those means you are already ahead of the game.

Wis for win-win. A negotiation doesn't have to have a winner and a loser. Everyone should come out winning something.

Xis for (e)xit strategy. Decide in advance when you will withdraw from negotiating, when you can no longer achieve what you need or when the other side cannot be trusted to negotiate fairly.

Yis for yield. What will this deal yield for you? What will you have to yield to make it work?

Zis for zero in on what you want, what you need, and what you are willing to concede.

Mackay's Moral: Agreements prevent disagreements.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.