You might not know it, but you negotiate all the time. We all do. Our negotiations might be small or insignificant, such as negotiating with your roommate or partner which chores you will own each week. Some are quite significant, such as negotiating the terms of a year-long contract with a client or negotiating the purchase price of someone’s next home. The higher you go in your career, the more negotiation tactics become a business-critical career skill to master.
Regardless of the negotiation situation, get in an executive mindset, out of the weeds, and into a strategic view of your goals. Try to negotiate from a cooperative perspective (win-win) rather than a competitive one (win-lose). Use the tips below to help you and your negotiating partner find a fair deal that builds as trusting a relationship as possible.
Use Affirming Language
When you negotiate, use positive language as much as you can. Affirming language is simply saying what you mean in positive terms and sharing what you understand the other person has told you. By using affirming language, you’re helping to make your negotiation partner feel heard and valued. Here are two examples of how to use affirming language when negotiating.
- “I appreciate everything you have offered, especially [example concession they’ve made], and I’m glad you like [example concession I’ve made]. Would you be willing to include [request]?”
- “I understand you’re wanting X, Y, Z, correct? If this is true, I’m happy we can give you X and Y, but unfortunately, we cannot do Z for [reason].”
Again, affirming language will make the other negotiator feel heard, and further perpetuates a positive and friendly tone rather than setting up a competitive framework.
Don’t Make the First Offer
During negotiations, try to not make the first offer or be the first person to state a number. According to one study cited and discussed by Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, MBA students were to negotiate a single-issue price deal and record who made the first offer, the amount, and the deal outcome.
Afterward, the MBA students were asked about their emotional state. The negotiators who made the first offer often felt, “more anxiety than those who did not,” and were “less satisfied with their outcomes.”
If you’re pushed to state a number first and you don’t feel comfortable doing so, try to put your numbers in context using the phrases below:
- “I would like more information about X, Y, Z before making a specific offer.”
- “We can do a range of XX amount to YY amount. What factors would affect whether the number is at the higher or lower end of this range for you?”
How to Defer Stating a Number During Salary Negotiations
Making a counter offer is especially key during employment interviews or a performance review where a salary increase is on the table. Early on in my career, I was unprepared to answer the salary question and usually fumbled by requesting a salary too high or too low.
From interviewing for over a dozen jobs, I now expect the salary question to occur at the end of the initial interview. The reason companies request your salary expectations during the first-round interview is because they want to make sure you are both in the same ballpark. But this first salary conversation is not the time to negotiate. Negotiating an actual salary agreement is appropriate once you’re offered the job.
I also learned to use Glassdoor to see salary ranges at companies I applied and interviewed with. When asked the salary question I would follow these steps:
- Ask for the position’s salary range
- Ask what that range is based on if not explained by the interviewer
- Inquire into where they saw me landing in that range (i.e. an actual figure.)
- Depending on my experience and the offer I would either agree to that number or ask for a higher salary.
Tip: It’s important to know what your minimum compensation package value must be so you know when and why to walk away.
Tip: It’s important to ask for a higher salary than the number they give you (if you truly believe you’re worth that extra pay) because otherwise, you will never know if they were prepared to pay you more. Reasons you could be worth a higher number could relate to your experience or your ability to bring something new to the company or team. Ask for more and be prepared to negotiate.
Check Your Body Language
When discussing the details of a deal or terms, you want to meet in person as much as possible. Given the ongoing pandemic, meeting in person might not be an option. Therefore, try to meet over video conference or over the phone to get a read on the other party’s facial expressions and voice — therefore their overall sentiments.
When negotiating, you want to be acutely aware of your and the other person’s body language and facial expressions. It is also recommended that you make note of your own voice and tone, even if negotiations are going well. For instance, try to smile when speaking. Smiling will change your vocal cords — which will make you sound and appear more earnest and friendly.
Know what the below movements signify:
- Crossed arms typically means someone is defensive or agitated.
- Leaning back in a chair can signify confidence, and in some cases, a way to show dominance.
- Hands-on one’s hips can mean control or confidence in the situation, but it can also be a form of aggression particularly if they’re physically close to you.
- The tapping of fingers often indicates impatience or frustration. If this is occurring, they’re probably thinking of their response rather than what you’re saying at the moment.
When I am negotiating or even speaking to someone else in my professional and personal life, I try to be cognizant of my body language first and how it might make the other person feel. I also closely observe their body language and facial expressions when I bring up a new or important detail to interpret their reaction.
Research Your Options
Make sure you have done a thorough amount of research and know the deal, contact, or whatever is being negotiated to the best of your ability. Nothing will irritate the opposing party other than having to explain a key detail to you which they have reason to believe you would understand. You also don’t want to be caught off guard, which will decrease your leveraging power.
Stick to Your Bottom Line
This might be the most important tip of all, but make sure you (1) know your bottom line and (2) stick to it. Again, do research beforehand so you know what your walking away point is, but if you go past what you’re comfortable with you might have buyer’s remorse or feel taken advantage of.
A good rule of thumb is to have a couple of backup plans and to know what you’ll do if you can’t negotiate a deal. This makes the negotiation easier for you because you know that if their best offer is better than your plan B, it’s probably a pretty good deal! If it’s worse than any of your backup plans, don’t take the deal. And if something new gets brought into the equation you didn’t consider, take a moment to consider it—especially if it’s better than your plan B.
Look for the Easy Thing for You to Give
You’re going for the win-win, remember? There’s probably at least one thing, or a few things, that are important to your negotiating partner that doesn’t matter much to you. Figure out what these things are. Use the negotiation dialog to verify that they are in fact (1) important to the other person and (2) not important to you, and then give them away. This helps build trust with your partner that you really do want them to feel a “win” from this negotiation too. And it’s easy.
In summary, to have a successful win-win negotiation where both parties walk away satisfied, try to use affirming language to keep the energy positive. Also, be highly conscientious about your and the other negotiator’s body language and facial expressions. Finally, try to not make the first offer, and if you do, make sure you have a solid backup plan. Remember to give away things that are meaningful to them but easy for you as this builds trust in the process.