Do you freeze up at the idea of negotiation? Have no idea which negotiation skills you need? Read on for my best tips to improve any tough conversation, starting today.
When clients come to me for negotiation skills coaching, many struggle to separate negotiation from ideas of fighting, argument and conflict. The core of this is that many people – especially women – see negotiations as risky situations threatening their relationships. When you need to negotiate with your partner or employer – you may worry that asking for more could undermine your relationship.
To a great extent, this is a gendered problem –addressed in the excellent book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. However, the concern about rupturing relationships through aggressive negotiation tactics is one that both men and women hold.
How can you protect your relationships and defend your interests in negotiations?
Men and women can both benefit from techniques that Babcock and Laschever suggest. Often you may have two goals in a negotiation – getting what you want out of the talks and maintaining the relationship with the person on the other side. Below are seven ways you can do just this:
#1 – Reframe the struggle
If you go into a negotiation thinking of it like a fight – it’s likely to increase your anxiety about the discussion. Instead, consider it a chance to share your ideas with the other side and discover their concerns and fears.
#2 – Tell them what you want
You cannot read anyone’s minds, nor can they read yours. If someone doesn’t know what you want, they cannot give it to you. You are pretty specific when you walk into a café and order something to drink. Even if you are in a well-defined role as a customer – the people in the café whose whole job is to keep you happy and anticipate your desires – do not know if you prefer tea, coffee or decaf. Do you want regular milk or an alternative? Hot or cold? Sugar? Being as specific as possible helps others to meet your needs when they can. And if they can’t, they may well offer you an alternative. But you have to let them know what you want.
#3 – Work together
Take the time to discover what motivates the other party in the negotiation. Do they have different pressures (bosses, budgets or partners) or desires they want to resolve? Discuss ways that you might be able to solve problems that affect both of you.
#4 – Don’t change how you usually behave
Sometimes we get the idea that we need to act aggressively, thump tables or generally work in ways we don’t think are our styles. If you feel forced to do this, it is far more likely to increase your apprehension about negotiation – and perhaps avoid it altogether. Instead, practice asking for what you want in your own words and in your way. This way, you don’t need to take on anyone else’s ‘tactics’ and stay genuine to your way of being.
#5 – You are not responsible for the other side’s happiness
Whilst you have done some fact-finding about your counterpart’s desires and motivations – remember you are not responsible for them and their happiness. Often, we over-empathise with another person’s needs and feel bad when we think we are denying them. You are not responsible for their situation. Trust the other negotiators to take care of themselves.
Babcock and Laschever say: ‘Most people have no trouble saying no when they can’t or don’t want to do something, but are often eager to say yes if they can – and if they know what you want.’
#6 – Use emotion appropriately
Some people worry about becoming emotional in a negotiation. Indeed, some emotions are contagious – for example, if you walk into a room preparing for a fight, the other side might pick up on that and become defensive immediately. Instead, use appropriate emotions – ones that will help you achieve your ends. Communicating positive emotions – like cheerfulness, openness and optimism – can be a great way to put the other side at ease. Moreover, people in a positive frame of mind are shown to be more creative in problem-solving situations – which is what a negotiation is.
#7 – Disarm combative negotiators
Wherever possible, step to the side of your opposition. Listen to their arguments and acknowledge their opinions. If possible, agree with them when you can. It is tough to fight with someone who agrees with you. This can be done without conceding your point – and you can move from being the enemy to being on their side. Remember, point #5 – you are not responsible for their happiness – but being listened to is very powerful.
These techniques might not always get you 100% of what you want – but they take the combat stress out of negotiations and help preserve your meaningful relationships.
Want to read more? Try Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. (Please note this is an affiliate link. If you click and purchase the book, I will earn a small commission on each sale.)
I offer specialised one-on-one coaching to transform your negotiation skills over a series of 7 coaching sessions. If you are interested, book in a free 30-minute chat with me to find out more.
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