Let’s be honest, most of us don’t like to negotiate. Our negotiation skills are often put to the test when buying a car or trying to make our kids eat their vegetables. At work, we often associate negotiations with either the hiring process or when it’s time to ask for a raise. But what if a negotiations expert were to tell us that we can and should be negotiating every day, especially at work? How would that change the way we approach our work? How would that change the way we see life?
By the numbers
Performance reviews, if they’re positive, typically include a salary adjustment. This is perhaps the best opportunity to put good negotiating skills to work. Sadly, a recent survey from Salary.com found that nearly one-fifth of workers don’t ever negotiate salary. If it’s a first job, then failing to negotiate the starting salary means that we could miss out on up to $500,000 by the time we reach age 60.
In that same Salary.com survey, more interesting numbers pop up: “87 percent are either sometimes or always apprehensive about salary negotiations. Only 12 percent of people make a point to always negotiate during a review, while a whopping 44 percent say they never bring up the subject of raises. Of people surveyed, 32 percent were fearful of negotiating and 18 percent find it inherently unpleasant. The biggest reason was fear. Of respondents, 32 percent said they were too worried about losing the job offer if they tried to negotiate, and 22 percent said they didn't ask for more simply because they lack the skills to properly negotiate during the interview process.”
Become ‘The Negotiator’
If you’re old enough to remember the movie, “The Negotiator”, Kevin Spacey plays a police negotiator who is tasked with trying to talk Samuel L. Jackson down after he takes a room full of people hostage in an office building. A funny scene happens during the opening of the movie where Spacey, who has years of experience in the most stressful situations of life and death, can’t seem to broker communication between his wife and daughter after they get into an argument. Many of us feel like Spacey in that scene when it comes to asking for more. We may be highly trained and have years of experience at our jobs, but we just don’t have the skills to do the job. We weren’t born a good negotiator.
For Kevin Baker, VP of Sales for Universal Beauty Products, good negotiators aren’t born. They become that way with the right education and lots of practice. “We are one of the few cultures in the world where we learn from a young age that negotiating is undesirable or rude,” said Baker. “Some of this is through observation of our parents or role models and some from direct teaching. Think about it, until the advent of supermarkets, people in Europe bought their food every day in markets and negotiated price. In parts of Asia and undeveloped countries this is still the case. Because of the stigma and/or generally uncomfortable feeling, people are reluctant to negotiate whether personally or in business. The great thing about negotiation is that the more you do it the more comfortable you become doing it and you generally become a good negotiator. Remember- Negotiation Can Be Fun!”
To help people practice negotiations and to have fun doing it, Baker wants them to adopt the attitude that everything, and he means EVERYTHING is negotiable. “To become a better negotiator you may want to focus on a few things: One, gain as much knowledge about the item or subject that you are going to negotiate—Do You Homework! Two, ask lots of questions of the key decision maker, for example the store manager, the dealership manager, etc. The questions should be direct yet friendly such as why is this item priced at this price? Have the decision maker explain why the price is justified. Often you will find that they cannot justify the price or value. Based on the answer(s) offer an alternative price that you are willing to pay and ask the person to agree to the price. If they refuse then make the decision to continue negotiating or walk away from the deal. Three, always be prepared to walk away from the negotiation,” Baker said.
When we use this negotiating mindset at our workplace, we soon realize that we need to make sure that our needs are being met at work. Perhaps our boss or project manager doesn’t realize how much time it will take to complete a task and they want a deadline that just isn’t doable. This is prime example of when good negotiation skills come in handy. “If a project is due on Monday and you feel that you need more time, simply say, ‘Based on the complexity of the project, I would like to do a little more research in order to present you with the best possible options. Is it possible that we can make the project due on Wednesday?’” said Baker. “What you have done is outlined the need for more time based upon your desire to provide a great finished product. By requesting that “we” make the project due on Wednesday you have involved the other person to a greater degree. While there may be a significant reason that the project be due on Monday, you will often uncover additional information or best case gain Wednesday as the deadline.”
Strive for win-win
Many people think that the term “negotiation” is synonymous with “conflict.” For Baker, if we have that mindset, that’s putting us at a disadvantage from the start. “A negotiation is merely a meeting of two people who have a different perspective on a subject or situation. If we view it as conflict we bring too much negative energy to the process. For a negotiation to be successful it must be a mutual success. If one party believes they have “hoodwinked” the other and won, the chances are it was not a good negotiation. Self-respect of both partners is critical and if one party completes the negotiation only to feel they lost, or even later to feel they lost, is counterproductive,” Baker said.
A win-win outcome should be the goal no matter if the negotiations are between colleagues or between boss and subordinate. “When dealing with a boss there is the tacit recognition that the boss is the boss and you are the subordinate. These negotiations should always be respectful but the more knowledge and value you can bring to the conversation, the more highly you will be regarded and the more respect the boss will have for you as a negotiator,” said Baker. “Colleague to colleague is much the same. In both cases it is important that both people leave the negotiation with their self-respect intact. Don’t burn bridges. Remember to keep the emotion out of the negotiation…it’s only business.”