When it comes to negotiating, there’s an easy and instant way, where you just go for it and see what happens. In another sense, really, the easiest thing to do is nothing, and rely solely on outside forces and chance.
Or, you can take additional steps that will increase the likelihood of your desired outcome. With enough practice, these steps can also seem easy and instant. These four steps can help you negotiate better salary, prices, time off, a promotion, project details, process changes, or anything where the stakes are high or you want to do more to get the results you’re after.
1. Understand the Impact to the Decision Maker
See what you can do to get more familiar with what is important to the decision maker. (First, make sure you’re set up to communicate with a decision maker or someone who can influence them on your behalf.) Mind you, sometimes, the impact to you alone will mean something to them, too, but a good first step to negotiating well is to acknowledge their needs, which may involve asking questions and doing some research when feasible.
Simply put, everyone cares about the same basic things to varying degrees, so a good place to start with is to think about what I call EFsG&I – easy and fun, fast, good, and improving. Figure out what appeals to each of these points, if you can, in order to acknowledge and address negative impacts as well as highlight beneficial ones well. Beyond these basics, there will likely also be additional specific, situation-dependent points that will be good to make up front.
For example, if you’re proposing taking two months off work to your manager, you might include that you’re aware they would have to cover some of your tasks or find coverage so you’ll do that work up front (fast). Or perhaps you’re taking time off to complete a course, so you could mention how you intend to use your learnings to enhance the product in a specific way (improving) and make it more appealing to the marketplace (good).
And if you’re going to be discussing new consequences with an older child, you might acknowledge up front that you know this means they’ll miss out on activities they’d expected to participate in (not fun), and means more chores to complete (not easy), and that in the interest of reinforcing the rules you’ve come up with as a loving parent interested in teaching them how to be a good human and find joy in life, this is what’s going to happen (good). Notice that this doesn’t need to be a negotiation if it isn’t warranted, and can simply help you reiterate that you’re comfortable with your decision.
2. Do Your Homework
Make it easy for the negotiatee to say yes.
Bring as much information up as you can as long as it is relevant and influential. It’s much better to show facts and measures that better predict the outcome, than to state what you think will happen. If you think it will make you more productive, state why you think that is. If you think it would be better for business, don’t just say that, do some research to show that this is really quite likely. If you feel it is more equitable, show the data that backs that up. And continuing the point above, if you believe it will be met with resistance on any point, do that homework to speak to it right up front as well. If you don’t have data right now, include in the plan how you will measure, with interim continue-or-stop checkpoints as additional information is gathered.
Take, for example, proposing to extend a project timeline to add in a frequently requested feature, aka scope creep. If there’s additional costs from supporting the current process, or time spent doing something manually that can be saved, be specific about what those are expected to be as is and how you would expect those to change with your proposal, so that it’s easy to see the impact and removes as many doubts as possible.
Another great way to negotiate can be to come up with a few acceptable options with their impacts outlined individually and relative to each other, and propose one and/or let them select one. Consider which ones are acceptable to you, and how you want to handle ones that really aren’t options to you. My favorite way to clearly show options is with a comparison chart, similar to a product feature table, where the options are listed on one side, and across the other is a list of common evaluation criteria that highlights preferential options more objectively.
3. Clean Up Your Thoughts
This is easily the most valuable step. Negotiating without doing this happens all the time, but when you take time to process your own thoughts about what you’re requesting, you’re increasing the odds of getting what you’re after with full integrity and opportunity for everyone involved.
What is your motivation for negotiating? If you are upset or trying to manipulate a situation, especially when it comes at someone else’s expense, then this will likely show up in your approach and negatively influence the outcome. If you are doing this from a thoughtful, peaceful state, with everyone’s best interests at heart, then you’ll be easier to work with and more likely to continue negotiating with an appropriate level of compromise, not giving in early or being more demanding than you truly feel the situation warrants. If you’re going up against what you believe is someone who isn’t thoughtful or peaceful, this will put you in a better position as well, even when it seems it might put you in a position to be manipulated. It can, in fact, help diffuse tension, put you in a confident position, and keep the conversation going.
Here are some questions to consider for making sure you’re ready to negotiate:
- Are you motivated by making progress or are you full of emotions?
- Are you good with each of your reasons for negotiating? Are there others’ needs you want to be considering? not considering as much?
- Will you be accepting if they say no, or looking to counter with another offer?
- Are you ready for them to say yes?
Know that you have more influence than you think you do. If you don’t think that is true, think of any two-year old who is trying to get an extra treat from an adult. While you don’t need to resort to toddler temper tantrums, it goes to say that you can exert influence without being in a position of power. If you’re coming from fear or manipulation, making ultimatums or withholding anything, you’re ultimately hurting yourself more than anything. It may get you what you want, but without the benefits of the full human experience.
Remember, the worst they can say is no, and this isn’t failure. The only failure is saying no for them and not even attempting to negotiate when you have solid reasons and options for it.
4. Now Let’s Negotiate
When you’ve got your prep work above done, now it’s time to negotiate. Here are three easy steps to handle any negotiation:
- Deliver your proposal: Whether you’re saying it in three sentences or coming up with a larger, more formal proposal that covers context, details, and supporting references, practice giving it at least once, with or without a practice participant.
- Reach alignment: There are key aspects to make sure you’re in agreement on whether or not negotiations are successful in your view. These typically include who is involved and what is expected by when. Details of how it will be done usually are not included, but be clear about if that is the case or not. And whenever possible, get this alignment in writing.
- Follow Up: If you’ve agreed to interim checkpoints, make sure those happen. If you had success with larger negotiations, consider sharing the results and the impact they made for you and/or the decision maker, and thank them.
As with anything, the key here is to go for it. You’ll learn more by taking real action, where you’ll be able to learn what works for you as you go, and be able to keep going until you achieve your goals.