4 Steps to Becoming a Better NegotiatorNone By Steve Calechman
Getting what you ask for can bring plenty of positives. It makes you feel heard, valued, and happy. But in order for it to happen, you have to ask first—a thought so overwhelming that many of us don’t bother. When the prospect is a new job or promotion, the need to negotiate comes in, along with worry that you’ll be seen as overly demanding, illogical, unknowing. And then, what if you’re rejected?
All of that is conjecture, further adding to the anxiety. “Negotiating is often characterized by incomplete information,” says Taya Cohen, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. You don’t know what the company is looking for, what the deal breakers are, and who the competition is.
Your plan becomes relatively straightforward: remove as many unknowns as possible. Part of that comes from a readjusted perspective, part from doing research, and part from how you act in the room. Do all that and the stress goes down. The following can help:
Change Your Focus
Negotiating is often viewed as a battle of winning versus losing. But since it’s not a one-and-done scenario at work, it’s an inconsistent way of interacting with people. “You’ll see them tomorrow and the next day,” says Margaret Ann Neale, professor of management at Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of Getting (More of) What You Want. Instead, view the conversation as collaborative problem-solving. The shift helps, particularly for women, who are often expected to be agreeable and amenable in whatever setting they are in. Any deviation from that standard can cause backlash, and negotiating maximizes that risk. “Pair your ask with the communal concern for the other,” Neale says. “It’s hard to think, ‘I’m greedy or not nice if I’m solving your problem.’”
Cohen suggests making two columns. In one, list and rank what you want, keeping your must-haves to three issues in order to maintain focus and flexibility. Neale adds that while it’s essential to know your bottom line, that’s only a minimum level. You also want to set an aspiration, an optimistic assessment of what you can achieve—reach for something and you’ll do better. In the other column, list your counterpart’s top priorities. Rank them as best as you can, but also remember that you’ll need to…
Ask Questions, Including “Why?”
Even with solid preparation, you can’t know everything. That’s more uncertainty, and stress leads to hasty decisions. When in doubt, ask. Since the other side might not divulge fully, Neale says to alternate questions with answers you know with ones that you don’t. You can now judge the other side’s veracity. “It’s the best estimate of what you can trust,” she says.
There’s not an ultimate question, but whys are good go-tos. When the company balks at a request, ask why that’s important to them. It might be policy or that it’s never been done, but you’ll hear reasoning that you can use. If the salary is low, try negotiating for more vacation or an earlier review time. Fundamentally, questions continue the conversation and allow information to flow. “You’re trying to understand what’s important to the other side, how it is different for you, and how you can come up with an agreement,” Cohen says.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The ability to negotiate well comes from experience. Take advantage of low-level opportunities, be it buying shoes or a television. Do online research, bring in a competing price and ask whether the retailer can match or beat it. One of a few things will happen: You will get the deal. You won’t get the deal. You’ll see the worst that’s said is no. You can walk away and see the response. And you can always still buy whatever you want. It builds up the muscles and makes the process less foreign, Cohen says.
Change Your Focus—Again
Let’s go back to the job scenario. If you received an offer, realize that companies don’t make them casually. There might be other candidates, but not many. The company is invested in having you accept, otherwise the process has to start over. If that’s not enough motivation, ask yourself, “Why wouldn’t they want me to negotiate?” Ultimately, you’re showing how you handle conflict and that you’ll stand up for yourself. But by making the situation work out well for both sides, executives see one other key quality that further reassures them of why they wanted you in the first place. “You’ll problem-solve for them,” Neale says.
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