Within the past few years, some of the best-known names in American industry have disappeared down the gaping maws of other companies. Other seemingly unassailable fortresses have been disassembled, and the parts sold off separately. And there's nothing unusual about that.

If huge enterprises, some so valuable their assets exceed those of many of the world's nations, can be bought and sold, cut up into little pieces or put together into bigger pieces, then there's no deal that you and I can contemplate that can't be put together. A deal can always be made when the parties each see something in it for their own benefit.

Whatever it is you are trying to buy or sell can be bought or sold if you can get the other side of the table to see how the deal works to their advantage.

No matter what industry you're in, the ability to effectively negotiate can make the difference between success and mediocrity. Whether it's a multimillion-dollar contract or a job offer, keep this advice in mind:

Know what you want. Don't go to the table without a clear idea of what you want to achieve. It will help you negotiate with confidence.

Ask for what you want. Let the other person make the first offer, then respond and set the tone for the discussion. That way you'll know how far you need to go to get what you need.

Understand what the other side wants. A successful negotiation should satisfy both sides. Instead of trying to crush your competition, find out what he or she hopes to get, and try to work together toward a solution that works for you both.

Don't concede unilaterally. Usually, one side or the other has to give something up. If you do that, be sure to get a comparable concession from the other person. Giving away something for nothing will be interpreted as a weakness to be exploited.

Don't rush. Time can be your friend if you are willing to wait for the right deal. If the other side senses a deadline, they may be motivated to hold out until the last minute, or try to force you into accepting unreasonable terms. Be patient and let the time pressure work against the other side.

Be ready to walk away. This can take a certain amount of courage, but it's necessary to avoid being backed into an agreement you don't want. If possible, keep an ally in reserve — someone with the power to approve or reject the deal. This can give you an out if you need to turn down a deal, or motivate the other side to make the best offer possible.

Mark McCormack, author of "What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School," said: "I find it helpful to try to figure out in advance where the other person would like to end up — at what point he will do the deal and still feel like he's coming away with something.

"This is different from 'how far will he go?' A lot of times you can push someone to the wall and you still reach an agreement, but his resentment will come back to haunt you in a million ways."

And that's an important point to remember. People or companies that you make deals with on a regular, or even infrequent, basis have long memories. If you don't fight fair or you embarrass them or make them feel like they have been disrespected or used, then forget about doing business with them again.

Mackay's Moral: Negotiation is not just about winning; it's about win-win.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.