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Negotiating Skills Will Get You Ahead

Negotiating skills can help you manage lots of different kinds of life situations, both at work and in your personal relationships. Here are a few examples of where these skills can help you build an even better life for yourself:

1. Many family situations require negotiating with others. Deciding which movie to see, planning how to spend money, choosing a vacation spot, and many other decisions work best when you have these skills.

2. Being a good negotiator enables you to get what you want more often without resorting to becoming aggressive or pushy. Negotiating with others is more effective than simply demanding what you want or just caving in.

3. You will be more successful in the workplace if you know how to negotiate. These skills enable you to stand up for yourself and get what you want more often without harming relationships with bosses and coworkers.

4. Negotiation skills increase your personal effectiveness in any group situation, such as volunteer groups, the PTO, and church or synagogue groups.

5. Knowing how to negotiate lessens the chances that others will take advantage of you.

6. Negotiating a fair solution makes you feel good about yourself and increases others' respect for you.

What Successful Negotiators Do

What exactly is negotiation? It is a set of skills that anyone can learn. When researchers have observed the behavior of negotiators, they learned that the most successful negotiators do the following things:

1. They plan ahead. Successful negotiations are rarely spontaneous. Taking the time to analyze the situation and think through your strategy is perhaps the most important element of negotiating success. This is true whether you are negotiating an important contract for your employer or negotiating your vacation plans with your family. Example: Anthony wants to begin running again to get into better physical shape. He became a new father 18 months ago and has had no time to exercise. He anticipates that Belinda, his wife, will resist any discussion of his wanting to take time for himself, since the responsibilities of parenthood are so time-consuming. For a while, he avoids the subject, fearing that it will turn into an argument. Then he starts to feel angry and resentful. He decides to negotiate with Belinda and begins by making a list of his needs and wants, as well as her needs and wants.

2. They are willing to consider a wide range of outcomes and options rather than rigidly insisting on a specific result. Negotiators who are most successful are open-minded and avoid being locked in to one outcome. They are willing to consider many possibilities and combinations of options.

Example: Lisa is feeling very stressed by the long commute to her job. She was thinking of resigning until she decided to make a list of other options. She came up with several alternatives: working from home two days a week, working part-time rather than full-time, working flexible hours to avoid rush hour traffic, and working from home every fourth week.

3. They look for common ground rather than areas of conflict. Pointing out areas where you and the other person are already in agreement conveys an attitude of cooperation and lessens any feeling of opposition.

Example: Sandy wants her next car to be a Volvo because of their reputation for safety. George wants a sports car. She says, "Let's talk about what we agree on. First, we both agree that the car has to have a strong safety record. Second, we want to buy a new car, not a used one like last time. And third, we've set our price range as $40,000 or less."

4. They discuss the key issues in order of priority. Have a clear idea of what the two or three key issues are and which is the most important. Start with the most important issues and proceed to those that matter less. If you can reach agreement on the most important things, the lesser issues will most likely be easier to resolve. Example: Carol wants her next family vacation to be something really special-either a Caribbean cruise or a trip to San Francisco. She and her family have visited relatives or stayed at home for the past few years. She wants the family to have an experience they will always remember before Todd, their adolescent son, grow ups and moves away. She sees the key issues as follows: (1) There are only three years left before Todd leaves. He is not likely to join us for a vacation after he finishes school; (2) It is important to have an exceptional vacation at least once in your life; (3) If we plan ahead and save the money, we will be able to afford the cost of such a trip.

5. Skillful negotiators avoid behavior that the other person is likely to consider annoying. This includes any of the following kinds of behavior: having an aggressive or intimidating manner, using sarcasm, using negative body language, or talking loudly. Not only do skilled negotiators avoid such behavior, they work hard at conveying an attitude of cooperation, reasonableness, openness, and friendliness. Example: Jed is negotiating the details of his new job with his new employer in the Chicago area. When Jed moves from Memphis to Chicago to begin work, he wants Sarah, his new boss, to give him three paid days off to get settled in his new apartment. Sarah is resisting the idea. Jed says, "I thought you would be more understanding about what it takes to get settled. A reasonable person would see that this is a small request." This sarcastic remark is likely to create some doubts in Sarah's mind rather than convince her to give Jed what he wants.

6. Good negotiators avoid participating in a defend/attack spiral. You know what this sounds like:

A attacks B

B defends herself and attacks A

A defends herself and attacks B

B defends herself and attacks A

We've all experienced being caught in one of these spirals and know how nonproductive they are. Rather than perpetuating such a process, the successful negotiator puts a stop to it by choosing not to say anything that would be perceived as aggressive or defensive.

Example A

Jim: "I can't believe you are being so rigid."

Anne: "Rigid! You should talk! You are completely bull-headed."

Jim: "Right! You should try listening to yourself. You are impossible."

Example B

Jim: "I can't believe you are being so rigid." Anne: "You're not happy with what I've asked for." Jim: "You're damn right! You have to consider what I want." Anne: "Tell me more about it, then. I'll be happy to listen."

In example A, Jim and Anne dig themselves in deeper with each statement. In example B, Anne blocks the defend/attack spiral and makes it possible for communication to resume.

With practice, you can learn to use these simple skills to get more of what you want in life-without coming across like a bully. In fact, these skills help you reach agreements that are more likely to satisfy both parties while maintaining a positive relationship. Try them in your work life or at home-they work equally well in either setting.

Garrett Coan is a professional therapist,coach and psychotherapist. His two Northern New Jersey office locations are accessible to individuals who reside in Bergen County, Essex County, Passaic County, Rockland County, and Manhattan. He offers online and telephone coaching and counseling services for those who live at a distance. He can be accessed through or 201-303-4303.

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