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How to negotiate — Or, how to make friends and influence people
Learning to negotiate is a valuable life-long skill. From buying a car or renting a home, to hashing out the terms of a new job, there are plenty of opportunities to negotiate.
And while some of the best negotiators seem to be born with a silver tongue, there is always room to better learn the art of negotiation. In this post we’ll dig into the rules of negotiation and ways to confidently negotiate terms.
The importance of negotiating
For many reasons, negotiating has gotten a bit of a bad reputation. When we think about negotiation strategies, one of two images tends to come to mind. Either we imagine quick-talking, slick salespeople who only care about the bottom line, or we think of the pressure we feel when we need to ask for something we want.
Either way, negotiating often feels like a zero-sum game. We think that the person who “did it right” is the one that got what they wanted. But there are more reasons to negotiate than just asking for a raise or haggling for a bargain.
Negotiating can help improve personal and work relationships. It can either dissolve conflict or solve it entirely and if done really well, can help build long-term relationships. It develops our communication skills and our comfort level with those around us.
Perhaps most importantly, learning to negotiate puts you firmly in the driver’s seat. At its heart, negotiating is about advocating for your interests while balancing them with (or even advancing) the needs of others. Learning to do this well improves your internal locus of control. Even if it doesn’t always go your way, you won’t feel like life is just happening to you. This will impact your confidence, self-efficacy, and willingness to take risks in the future.
What are the 7 rules of negotiation?
- Be Confident
- Be respectful
- Do your research
- Try to anticipate the other party’s wants and needs
- Make the first offer
- Ask open-ended questions
- Walk away
7 effective negotiation tips
All too often, when people think about negotiations they imagine that they have to come to the bargaining table with a “battle” mentality. People often think that anger or obstinance will somehow better their odds of getting what they want. But research shows that coming in with a complementary approach will actually improve the outcome of the negotiation.
Come prepared to listen during the negotiation and do not dominate the conversation. Using your humanity will often result in better “deals” or “win-win” scenarios for both parties.
The only way to become a better negotiator is to practice.
1. Be confident
Negotiations with anyone, a boss, a colleague or even a partner can be difficult conversations to have. But don’t be afraid. The first rule of being a good negotiator is to be confident. Sit down at the negotiation table with the belief that what you want — be it higher pay, more days off, or a better title — is something that you deserve. Try to put automatic, negative thoughts that feed imposter syndrome out of your mind.
One sure way to feel confident going into a negotiation is to practice some negotiation tactics ahead of time. But if you are struggling to feel confident before the big talk, try to stay relaxed by approaching it like a conversation. If you have the conversation face-to-face, remember to make eye contact and read the room. Be aware of any non-verbal cues from the person across the table.
2. Be respectful
Having confidence at the bargaining table is not another way of saying be arrogant or unrelenting in your demands. Be sincere in what you say. Try to avoid talking too much out of nerves and listen to the other party.
Mastering the art of negotiating requires some serious communication skills. Remaining empathetic to where the other person is coming from will always lead to more win-win scenarios.
3. Do your research
The greatest defense is a good offense. Make sure to do your research before beginning any sort of negotiation. If you are trying to settle on a job offer, negotiating a higher salary, or crafting a better offer, do some reading ahead of time to know what the market rate pay is for the position.
Look up the market value of the car you’re interested in via the Kelley Blue Book if you are planning to ask for a lower price. Check out websites like Payscale, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Salary.com, or the Bureau of Labor Statistics to get a quick idea of what salary ranges are based on experience.
Or if you are trying to negotiate a raise, come in with a clear number of how much ideally you would like to make and a dollar amount that you would need to feel financially secure. Coming into a negotiation with a plan and with an idea of what you want will give you confidence, a strong starting point, and will help make the conversation easier to manage.
4. Try to anticipate the other party’s wants and needs
Your boss, the car salesman, that unrelenting family member during the holidays, all have their own needs and goals. It will make things easier during negotiation preparations and the actual deal-making process itself if you try to anticipate what the other party might want.
For example, if you are trying to hash out a raise at work, try to take into account the company or your employer’s financial situation. Did they just recently need to lay off a dozen workers? Has a global pandemic forced the world to a standstill — impacting company profit? What are some incentives you could lay out for the other party to adopt what you offer? Are there any sort of tradeoffs you can offer to help you find common ground?
Thinking about what the other party’s perspective might be ahead of a negotiation can help you plan out what you think is attainable.
5. Make the first offer
When entering a negotiation, you want to be in control of the bargaining table. One way of doing this is by making the first offer. Typically, nobody accepts the first offer, but opening offers are a good starting point and will influence the other party’s counteroffers.
Aim high when making the first offer if it is related to salary, a promotion, vacation days, or a pay raise. And try to aim low if making an offer on something that you will spend your hard-earned money on. Aiming a bit high or a bit low allows for some wiggle room in the negotiation process for you and the other party to work with. Aim to make a first offer where the opposing party will feel like they can present a counteroffer, turning the negotiated agreement into a win-win for both of you.
5. Do not take the first offer.
If by chance you don’t get to be the first party to speak or make an offer, remember that accepting the first offer is often a mistake. While it might seem tempting to accept the first offer, especially if you are an inexperienced negotiator, try to make a counter offer.
Counteroffers increase the chance that both parties will conclude the negotiation feeling as if they “got something” out of it. Sometimes, not making a counter offer can be startling. In many situations, a counteroffer is expected, and could even disrupt the flow of a negotiation — making it feel forced or awkward.
Counteroffers are commonly expected in most negotiations, so don’t feel shy about putting yourself out there. After all, it never hurts to ask and the worst they can say is no. Even if you don’t get that lower price or salary increase, knowing that you did the best you could helps to improve your negotiation skills and brings you peace of mind.
6. Ask open-ended questions
Questions will always help make a negotiation feel more like a conversation and can reveal information that is beneficial to the negotiation. Sometimes it's even best to lead with questions during the beginning of a negotiation to learn where the opposing party stands and what their expectations are. Make sure to ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no, and instead opt for more probing questions.
7. Walk away
Sometimes a deal is just not meant to be. It’s ok to pump the brakes on negotiation talks if you feel that the other party is not being respectful. Sometimes it's better for the sake of your health, finances, and future to turn down an offer if your gut is telling you it's not a right fit. The opposing party is not doing the work to meet you at a happy middle ground.
Some negotiators will purposefully walk away from a deal as a clever tactic to try to pressure the opposing party into giving their demands. Sometimes this works in business. But other times it just stops a (otherwise healthy) negotiation process from proceeding forward in a way where both parties are happy with the outcome.
How to negotiate a job offer
1. Get the scoop
Job offers are typically a conversation that you have with your prospective employer where you are allowed to ask questions about the position and its encompassing responsibilities, hours, pay, and a potential accompanying benefits package. Before accepting or declining the job, ask as many questions as you can that will give you a full sense of the gig and whether the work expectations, time off, and compensation are up to your standards.
2. Ask for time to consider the initial offer
There is nothing wrong with taking a day or two to mull over a new job offer. This will allow you to consider the pros and cons of the offer and to craft a counter offer if you wish. You are not obligated to give the hiring manager a reason for why you want to take some time to consider the offer. But you do want to be respectful of their time and not deliberate for too long.
During this time, think over what it is that you want from the job. If you are having difficulty making a decision, make a list of what you like about the offer versus what you don’t like about it. Take some time during this period to further research the company and the position. You can also set up informational interviews (if you haven’t already) to hear what current and previous employee experiences were like.
3. Come prepared
Knowledge is power. Before even considering a job, know what you want in terms of salary, health coverage, retirement, time commitment, workplace training and time off. Having a clear picture of what you want from your job and potential employer will make the negotiation process easier.
Do some research to know what is an appropriate salary range for the position you have been offered. If you are unhappy with the initial offer make sure to be clear of what you want in a counter offer. If you will mostly be discussing salary or an hourly rate it's always better to come with specific numbers instead of a range to cut down on the back and forth. Remember that salary is not the only thing that is negotiable. Other work-related costs like travel expenses, at home office costs, vacation days, sick days, remote work days are not necessarily set in stone.
4. Be willing to compromise
If you are asking for more than what was specifically outlined in an initial salary offer, prepare a "best alternative" for your counter offer. Even if you think you are being reasonable in the demands laid out in your counter offer the company or employer may just not be able to give you exactly what you want. Evaluate what are the most important things for you in a job and make those your non-negotiables.
Make sure to also create a list of things that you are willing to be flexible on or live without. Is there a starting salary that you won’t go below? Are there a minimum amount of paid time off days that you need in a year? Think about what your life and professional goals are and where your values lie. Then see how your (realistic) demands play into those goals.
5. Don’t make it personal
When discussing a job offer, remember your worth. Great negotiators know that they will have better negotiation outcomes if they don’t make things personal. If $50,000 is too low of an annual salary for you because you have 10 years of experience in the business, mention that. Do not say that you need to make more money because you feel like you haven’t gotten what is owed to you for all your hard work.
You should also leave your personal financial responsibilities out of the conversations. Your monetary value lies in actionable skills that you can offer a place of employment, and you are valuable enough to negotiate based on that. However, if the role will require relocation, commuting, long hours, or other factors that will impact your personal life, it's fair to negotiate additional compensation.
Being a good negotiator is more important now than ever
People are more digitally connected now than ever before and that constant connection can lead to more potential disagreements. Being a good negotiator will be able to help you meet your personal and professional goals in this increasingly connected and competitive world.
BetterUp Staff Writer