How Can You Become a Better Negotiator?

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In case you haven’t been watching the news, here’s a brief rundown of what’s been going on in Rhode Island:

In February, the entire staff was fired from Central Falls High School as part of a plan to reform the under-performing school. After months of negotiations, the Central Falls Teachers Union reached an agreement with the local school board. All 90 teachers were rehired under the additional terms and conditions that they will work longer hours, provide additional tutoring to students and complete 10 professional development days every summer. In the end, the teachers kept their jobs, and the requisite tutoring sessions and longer school days will hopefully lead to better academic performance at the school.

The road to cooperation wasn’t easy, though — The New York Times reported that, since February, the union spent close to 50 hours in talks with the school board.

This led us to start thinking about the art of compromise. Unfortunately, negotiation is rarely a walk in the park, but since it’s a fact of working life, it’s good to know the basics. The following are expert tips on negotiation, whether you’re vying for a higher salary, a longer maternity leave or the right to wear flip-flops to the office this summer.

1. Do your research

First things first, says Steve Gavatorta, author of “The Reach Out Approach” and a speaker on negotiation methods. “Be prepared and do your homework  upfront. It is imperative that you gain clarity on your needs as well as those of the other person,” he says. “It is often difficult to gather insights from the other side, but the more you can glean and clarify what a ‘win’ means for the both of you, the more you can understand where there is alignment and difference, which will help you plan and succeed in the negotiation.”

Gavatorta also suggests defining what constitutes a win-win situation before entering negotiation, “so you are viewed as taking the initiative of working towards a common goal.”

2. Listen to the other side

“The best way to make your side heard is to focus on the organization’s priorities  first,” says Renessa Boley, a success coach in Washington, D.C. “It’s crucial to hear the other side so that you can (1) demonstrate how the change you seek benefits the organization and aligns with their priorities and (2) so that you can proactively address any concerns your boss may have before he or she raises them. It is always better to pre-empt an objection than to respond to one,” Boley says.

3. Explain yourself

When entering a negotiation, make your goals clear. “Ask for what you want,” says Elene Cafasso, president and head coach at Enerpase Executive Coaching. “You won’t get it if you don’t ask.”

If you’re negotiating a salary or challenging a current workplace rule or contract, chances are that simply asking for what you want won’t be enough. You’ll have to back up your position with facts and reasons why you should get what you want, and how it will benefit the company or organization.

“I like to look at the negotiation as an opportunity to persuade another person to ultimately accept your points,” Gavatorta says. “If you’ve done your homework and clearly know where the alignment is [in your viewpoints] you can work towards the overarching objective of a win for both sides.”

4. Aim high

“Remember this is a negotiation and you will have give and take, so start at an aggressive point so you have plenty of room to maneuver,” Gavatorta says. “You can be assured that the other person will be aiming  high, too.”

5. Know when enough is enough

Sometimes, Gavatorta says, both sides may just need to walk away for a while and think about the points that have been raised, but this doesn’t mean the conversation is finished. “If you’ve done your homework upfront and negotiated in good faith during the process, then it is not yet over,” he says.

Also, remember that a good deal can be made for everyone involved, without each side getting exactly what they want. “At some point, we need to be happy with what’s fair and accept a deal that we can live with and feel good about,” Cafasso says. “Especially when negotiating a salary, I always ask my clients if they want to work [for a certain employer] for reasons beyond the money. Will it advance their overall career goals?  What will they learn?  What contacts will they make?”

24 Comments
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  13. People are funny. this article is at least 30 years old. the writer doesnt know anything new to say. Most negotiations start off with…the job pays 45k. not much room for negotiations. maybe the writer needs to look for work and see if they can get an interview first; then that person would be competing with at least 20 others for the one position. and if you got as far as negotiations, chances are you will accept the initial number because you do not want to continue to be unemployed. can someone with a little substance actually do some real research and put together an article worth reading? maybe with some true to life examples. the average person waits 18 months to get one call back….you think they are going to jeopardize that with “shooting high”. get a clue!

    • Responding to aa August 11, 2010–The article has merit–though somewhat antique in power and performance like a ’39 coup. I would really like to read something more relavant and current to the realities of the unemployed negotiating from a competive disadvantage while employers are intending to hire only those who are currently employed already. What can overcome employers’ predisposition is current volunteerism, communitee involvement, and continually learning new skills-sets while between jobs; put it first sentance in the reume–not just the cover letter. A currently working applicant has less free time to devote to self emprovement or volunteerism so can’t compete in this arena; a stand out position to capitalize on while in an applicant pool.

  14. I feel sorry for your employer… because you have a very POOR work ethic! The reason for a job is to contribute to the overall success of your organization… the paycheck is a reward for a job WELL DONE! It will only a matter of time before you are looking for another job… and hopefully in the in-between time you will do what it takes to GROW UP and acquire the skills needed to become a participator as opposed to a spectator… Hint: lose the WIIFM mentality it is not at all attractive and/or desirable…

  15. What about when you already have a job and want to advance. How would one counter the boss’ hiding behind “I’d like to give you a raise but ‘Corporate’ isn’t letting us give any raises right now. We’ll see what we can do later on.”. The only problem is that “later on” somehow never gets here.

  16. Pingback: How Can You Become a Better Negotiator? : The Work Buzz « Stephyan’s Blog

  17. maybe if the employer spoke to you, negotiations might work. Or if they gave credit to your ideas and were not buddies with all the execs and never give positive or negative feedback, Just another organization who thinks that slothing through gets it done while the management blows smoke and talks fast to cover their tracks.

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