When asked what word “negotiations” reminds them of, most people say “conflict.” This is why I love teaching win-win negotiations – because it doesn’t have to be that way! There are, of course, times when a competitive strategy is very appropriate, such as when you’re buying a car. However, I find that the majority of the time, it only takes a little preparation and creativity to have a huge impact on the pleasantness of the conversation and the impact it can have on both sides so that you both win. Here are a few of my favorite tips for win-win negotiations:

  1. Do your research. It may sound basic, but most people do not dedicate enough time to preparation. Why is this a problem? Because preparation is the best predictor of success in a negotiation. The more you know — about the other party, the situation, the organization, the environment or context, what the other party needs, any back-up plans they might have, any regulations or benchmarking data you can find, etc. – the more likely you are to be successful. This can also help take the heat out of the conversation as you simply point to data you found online (for example, average salary for your job title in your city) versus arguing back and forth about what you think is fair or deserved. 

  2. Brainstorm a back-up plan. One of the most common mistakes I see people make in negotiations is having a weak back-up plan or, heaven forbid, NO back-up plan (gasp). Your back-up, commonly referred to as your BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement, is a critical source of power and perspective. Without a good back-up plan, it’s hard to know what a good or bad deal looks like, and you don’t have the power to walk away from a bad deal. I made this mistake with my first job offer out of college. With no back-up plan, any salary sounded awesome compared to zero — so I took the first offer they gave me, which was extremely low. Oops.

  3. Listen carefully to their needs. Listening carefully to the other party, and asking clarifying, open-ended questions to be sure you understand completely before you reply with what you want, is a hugely influential tool that is often overlooked. Listening enhances trust1 and makes people see you more positively2 – who doesn’t want that in a negotiation? I also often say when I’m teaching this subject that influencing and negotiations are the art and science of showing the other party how what you want meets their needs. And if you don’t listen to what their needs are, how can you meet them? Just sayin’.

I’ll close with a real-life example that I love from a participant at a conference I hosted. The participant works in HR, and recounted a story of how an applicant to her company was able to successfully negotiate a great salary. Because the applicant listened very carefully during the interview process, she remembered that the employer urgently needed someone with this applicant’s particular skillset. She had a great offer (back-up plan) from another company, but really wanted to work for this one. She did her research and knew that she could reasonably ask for more salary, but in particular, that she could probably ask for even more than the average due to the needs of the company for that skillset. She proceeded to negotiate with the company, offering this critical skillset at a higher price than they offered, and she successfully negotiated a higher pay rate with the company. It turns out price was not something they cared deeply about – it was the skillset they needed, and had she not listened to that part of their needs, she may not have had such a successful outcome that met the needs of both sides.

The next time you feel tense entering a negotiation (even a casual, everyday one), ask yourself how you can best meet the other person’s needs while still getting what you need, and you’ll have a much more pleasant conversation. Need help navigating your negotiation? I’d be glad to help! Let’s set up a time to chat. In the meantime, share your best practices in a comment below.


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