The Art of Negotiation: How to Win Allies and Get to Yes

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5 min read

What comes to mind when you hear the word “negotiation”? Do you picture stuffy boardrooms with suits doing big deals? Salespeople wheeling and dealing in a showroom? Or do you think back to those times you’ve had to negotiate salary or rent?

The reality is negotiating is something we all do, every day. Life is a series of negotiations – especially your working life. And if you’re going to get ahead in your career (and in life), negotiation is a skill you need to flex and sharpen.

That’s exactly what you’re going to learn how to do in this article.

But before we delve into the art of negotiation, we need to debunk one of its biggest myths.

Negotiation is typically portrayed as a winner-takes-all battle – one in which you need war tactics to succeed. Think cold calculating maneuvers, manipulation, and even deception. 

But in fact, successful negotiation is about creating opportunities to influence and win allies.

As Chris Voss, former lead international kidnapping investigator for the FBI, explains in his book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It, it’s about listening to the other party, understanding their position, and working to achieve outcomes that both parties are happy with.

Strip it back, and good negotiation skills are really good communication skills.

Here are eight ways to sharpen your negotiation skills in the workplace:

1.   Do your homework

  • What are the needs of the other party? 
  • What pressures and obstacles are they facing? 
  • What options do they have?
  • What options do you have?

You can’t make strong arguments or judgments without understanding the other negotiator’s situation and the emotions they are bringing into the negotiation. 

2.  Listen very carefully

Think of negotiation like a detective solving a case. Your role is to ask probing questions and then listen. Your counterpart will tell you everything you need to know to negotiate effectively, but you won’t hear it unless you listen.

Follow the 70/30 rule – listen 70% of the time and talk only 30% of the time.

Encourage the other person to talk by asking open-ended questions – questions that start with “how”, “why” and “what if”.  This technique is about understanding the other person’s position. They may have obstacles or beliefs that are preventing them from giving you what you want, but you can’t respond to those unless you know what they are.

Let’s say you’re discussing a new job offer and the salary package isn’t working for you. Don’t ask a closed question like: “Is this your final offer?”. You will get more out of your counterpart if you ask an open-ended question like: “What would you say if I told you I simply can’t make this salary package work for me?”

The hirer might follow up with a better salary offer or add in perks to get to a place where you’re both satisfied.

There’s even research to prove it:

Researchers in the UK sent out fake CVs and cover letters for 3,200 positions. Despite demonstrating the same qualifications and experience, the “applicants” with common Pakistani or Nigerian names needed to send out 60% more applications than applicants with more stereotypically British names to receive the same number of callbacks. 

3.    Make the first offer

You might think that the best strategy is to keep your cards close and not reveal your hand too early. But according to research, the opposite is true.

One of the best negotiating strategies is to seize control of the bargaining table from the start.

By putting in the first offer, you set the initial terms of a negotiation. For example, if you are negotiating your salary, you set a high figure and leave it to the other person to propose a lower figure.

Research shows that final prices tend to be higher when the seller sets the opening offer, and lower when the buyer offers first. So, if you want a higher outcome, make the first offer.

4.    Harness the power of silence

Only talk as much as you need to. Silence is a powerful tool as it can throw people off their game and impact how they make decisions.

Keep eye contact, but don’t speak, and you might find that your counterpart starts talking to fill the silence – most people talk more when they’re nervous. This is when they can inadvertently make concessions that they wouldn’t otherwise, or share useful information that will help your negotiation pitch.

5.   Forget the win-lose mindset

Negotiation isn’t about one party winning or losing – it’s about finding a way for both sides to win. If you go in with a win-lose mindset and deploy cut-throat tactics, you might get what you want, but you will alienate the other person and kill the chance for a long-term partnership in the process. You could even damage your professional reputation.

Push for win-win outcomes, so that both sides get something they want. This is how you build relationships that can open doors down the road.

6.    Ask for what you want

Know what you want from the negotiation, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Successful negotiators know that everything is negotiable and will use this mindset to get to yes. 

Asking for what you want doesn’t mean being aggressive – it’s about assertiveness.  This means you take care of your own interests while maintaining respect for the interests of others.

7.    Expect the best outcome

It’s one thing asking for what you want, you also need to expect you will get it.

Successful negotiators are glass-half-full people. Expect more, get more. People who aim higher do better. Why? Because optimism brings you confidence, and your counterpart can sense that in a negotiation. Your optimism will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

8.    Be willing to walk away

Approach the negotiation knowing what your ‘walk away’ point will be. If you don’t have a walk-away point, it’s easy to get tripped up. You might find you are negotiated into a corner and lose sight of what you came in for.

If you know what you want, what you’re willing to give in return, and have honestly expressed this to the other party, you must be willing to walk away when you can’t reach that outcome.

It might feel like you’ve failed or lost out on an opportunity, but the important thing to remember is this:

You’re not walking away from something you want – you’re walking away from something you don’t want.

Conclusion

The art of negotiation is a powerful skill in the workplace, and in life. It gives you the ability to influence others to think, feel and act in a way that will help you to achieve your goals. Done right, and it will also help you build an enviable reputation, as well as allies you can rely on throughout your career.

Start sharpening your negotiation skills today – download Hodie.