How to Negotiate Your Way Ahead - Michelle Gibbings

A person is looking at a map in a field at sunset

When you think about negotiating, your mind might turn to those high-stakes situations that play out in real life and are often dramatised in movies and TV dramas.

And yet, negotiations happen every day – at work and home. The context might be a discussion with your partner about who’s cooking dinner or picking up the children from school. It could be negotiating the sale of your home or buying a new car. Whether it’s a high-stakes deal with a client, discussing roles and responsibilities within your team, securing more resources, or seeking a pay rise, negotiating plays a pivotal role.

The difference is the size of what’s at stake. The outcome may have less consequence in more minor, everyday negotiations, but the result may be critical in more extensive, more protracted talks.

For example, if you’re buying a house and can’t negotiate a reasonable price, you may pay more than it’s worth. In a work context, if you aren’t confident about stating what you want, you’ll agree to things you don’t like to do or may accept a role and not be paid what you’re worth. Neither situation makes for a happy outcome.

How you negotiate at work can make the difference between success, stalled progress or stagnation. So, to improve your negotiating game, here are tips to consider.

1. Know Your End Game
Negotiating is about more than just getting everything you want. Negotiations often involve compromise, so it’s crucial to identify what matters.

You want to outline your boundaries. These are your non-negotiables – what you are not willing to sacrifice. You also want to detail your trade-offs – the items you are comfortable giving up in return for the other party giving you something else that matters more.

As part of this, understand the options and how your proposal could satisfy the other person’s needs.

Remember, it can be a case of ‘don’t ask – don’t get’. So be deliberate about your needs and what you ask for.

2. Do Your Homework
When negotiating, you need to know what’s in the scope and what’s reasonable to request.

Agreeing on what’s in scope for the negotiation helps ensure you have clear parameters and can focus the conversation.

You also want to ensure that your request is within the range of what’s possible.

For example, if you are negotiating salary, you’ll want to know the market rates in the industry, so you can understand whether your request is above or in line with the market. Various job sites and job boards (e.g. Seek, Hays, Glassdoor) and LinkedIn provide data on salary ranges for roles and professions. Use those as a starting point for understanding the low and high salary ranges of your potential role. You don’t want to go in too high or pitch too low when negotiating.

3. Find the Leverage

Skilful negotiators know their points of leverage.

It’s the fundamental economic law of supply and demand. If you have something someone else wants and there are limited options to access, then you’re in a stronger negotiating position.

Similarly, if you’re willing to walk away from the negotiating table, it can pressure the other party into agreeing to your demands. When you’re desperate to secure an outcome and the person/persons you are negotiating with know that it will diminish your bargaining power.

4. Ready Your Mindset
Negotiating is mentally taxing. Your mind will be pushed and pulled in many directions. It’s essential to consider how you will likely think, feel and react throughout the process.

Suppose you go in with the perspective – “I’m right. They’re wrong” and are unwilling to find common ground. If that’s the approach, you’re unlikely to make good progress. It’s much more productive to approach the negotiation from a basis of mutual respect and a willingness to consider different ideas and options.

5. Frame for Gain
Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia University, found that how you mentally frame or think about a negotiation before going into it impacts the outcome. When people perceive the end goal of the negotiation as an opportunity to advance or achieve something – what’s known as a promotion focus – it helps them get comfortable with the risks that may be attached. The research found that promotion focused negotiators put forward bolder offers at the start of the negotiation, ultimately leading them to achieve superior outcomes.

Before entering the negotiation think about the gains you can secure from the conversation – be specific and aim high. When you put your offer on the table don’t be afraid to be bold in asking for more than what feels comfortable. You can always negotiate down from your starting position, but you can rarely – if ever – negotiate up from a low starting base.

Remember though, negotiations require give and take. What matters the most to you? In the context of a promotion or new job, is it salary, flexibility or learning opportunities, for example? In the context of a project at work, is it more resources, more stakeholder support or a specific outcome with the initiative?

While you want to aim high you may need to give up something else to get what matters the most to you, so it’s helpful to know that in advance.

6. Be Prepared
Consider how the negotiation process will unfold and the steps required to secure an agreement. Consider these steps before the discussion and be curious how they may play out. Running through possible scenarios and outcomes will enable you to respond better as issues or objections arise during the conversation. As you prepare, consider:

  • How will the negotiation process unfold?
  • What might the other person say?
  • How might they react and respond when I ask for this?
  • What may be the likely objections?
  • How will I respond to those objections?

7. Build Relationships Early and Long
Successful negotiations are more likely when you have a good relationship with the other people involved; however, never take this for granted.

You want to build your network early and always take the long-term view.

Seek to understand the other people involved – their operating style, agenda, needs and what they care about. Be interested in them and their perspectives and ideas. The more you understand those involved, the more insights you’ll have into what they are likely to support or reject.

At the end of the negotiation, you want those involved to walk away from the process with their dignity intact and feeling they have done well. There will be longer-term ramifications if someone feels ill-treated through a negotiation, even if an agreement has been reached. Remember, go too hard in this round, and they will be far more challenging to negotiate with the next time, and there’s always a next time.

8. Manage the Energy
Research shows that anxiety is a natural emotion during negotiations – particularly when the topic is salary. But anxiety also impacts your ability to be effective. In a simulated experiment, researchers found that people who were anxious made weaker first offers, responded more quickly (and less thoughtfully) to each move the counterparty made, and were more likely to exit negotiations early. They ultimately made deals that were 12% less financially advantageous.

So, don’t negotiate when you are tired and already highly stressed. Seek the time when you will be in the best headspace.

If you find your mind racing during the negotiation, focus on breathing deeply. This approach will help slow your heart rate, making reflecting and responding calmly easier.

9. Back yourself
Step up and into your personal power and have the courage and conviction to back yourself every step of the way. You have the right to express your wants and needs.

Negotiations often take unexpected turns, so be ready for it and have the resolve to see it through.

I always say to myself when I am feeling nervous about a negotiation ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’. The answer to that question is ‘They say no’. And hearing ‘No’ means I now know where I stand and can take the next step in another direction.

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