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5 negotiation skills every employee needs

Last updated on 
January 3, 2020

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These days, we expect more from our jobs – more opportunities, more flexibility, more chances to grow. But if these things aren’t handed to us, sometimes we need to negotiate for what we want.

There are times we need to negotiate the ‘big stuff’, like new employment contracts with the right amount of holiday allowance, overtime and notice period, or arranging flexible work and pay reviews; then there are smaller, everyday negotiations that are just part of collaboration – times where you have to work with difficult colleagues, pitch new ideas or request new responsibilities.

For these situations, there are several key skills that can help you get what you want – without hurting relationships or anyone feeling slighted. Here are five negotiation skills every employee needs.

1. Be a good listener (and ask questions)

No matter how much you want to get your point across, monopolizing the conversation and overtalking, or ignoring the other person is one of the worst things you can do in a negotiation. Without listening carefully to the other person, you can’t determine what they actually want – and because negotiation is about compromise, you both need the chance to put your side across in order to reach a mutual agreement.

If you dominate the conversation, you’ll come across as aggressive and bullish – not the type of person people want to do favors for! Listen more than you speak; this shows you’re respecting the other party’s viewpoint. Practice active listening, and ask questions when the other person finishes speaking. This shows them you’re actually listening, and helps create a connection between you.

Active listening also involves aspects of non-verbal communication. Look at the other person’s body language – do they seem impatient and cross? Or are they ready and willing for you to speak again? Always pause before talking – this gives you more time to think about what you’re saying, and also reduces your chances of interrupting the other party; you might think they’ve finished, but they might just be collecting their thoughts.

2. Be empathic

The importance of empathy in the workplace can’t be overstated, and negotiations are another time where having it – and showing it – becomes vital. If you want a successful negotiation, you need to recognize the other person’s viewpoint. A good negotiator always understands both sides of the coin – and if you can appreciate what’s important to them and what their concerns are, you can then address these issues in a compassionate way, without the other party becoming defensive.

It’s all about building a human connection with the other person. You don’t want them to see you as the enemy – you’re not. If it’s possible, sit on the same side of the table as the other person to downplay the impression of “us vs them”. Begin by chatting for a few minutes about lighter topics, to build rapport. When you apply empathy in these ways, you’re more likely to reach an agreement that’ll please the both of you.

3. Be prepared & have clarity

It’s crucial to prepare properly for a negotiation – this can be the difference between winning and losing! Do your research beforehand – figure out what the other party will want to achieve from the negotiation, and factor that into your arguments. Be aware of the value of what you’re asking for, and remember that the person who knows the most usually has the power.

If you’ve prepared well, you’ll have total clarity over what you’re asking for. You need to know why you’re asking for this, how you can get it, why you deserve it. You need to be aware of the bottom line, and just how far you’re prepared to compromise. Knowing these things gives you confidence – then you’ll be ready to negotiate. Practice before the negotiation and prepare for all outcomes.

4. Think strategically

Being prepared is important, but during a negotiation you should also be ready to think strategically and apply analytical solutions. If someone says “no” to your request, outright, know that they’re not necessarily shutting you down; they’re giving you the opportunity to find out more, to gather more information. When you hear “no”, ask “why?” – then apply this new data to your argument.

The more information you have, the easier it is for you to move tactically and strategically. As well as needing good communication, effective negotiations also require problem-solving and analytical thinking, e.g. if there’s a conflict, it might not be the other person who’s the source of it; perhaps there’s a third party you need to factor in. Analyzing the context of the situation and the motivations of all involved gives you a powerful advantage... which you can then leverage to get what you want.

5. Know when to walk away

No matter how good your negotiating is, sometimes a negotiation just stalls. Negotiations exist to create a solution both parties are happy with – so be aware when you’re compromising too much. Any agreement isn’t necessarily better than no agreement, so don’t be pressured into agreeing to something you’re not satisfied with in the heat of the moment. If the deal isn’t worth it anymore, walk away (but don’t storm off!).

Cool heads are much more likely to compromise effectively, so if tensions run high, take a break. Give yourself and the other person a chance to have a breather, think about what was said, and recalibrate. Use this breathing space to try to find some common ground; if, when you go back in, nothing’s changed, walk away from the negotiations. Never rush to a result.

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