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Art of Negotiating

The art of negotiation in the workplace

Artwork by: Stas Podgornov

  • What is the art of negotiation?
  • How to improve your negotiation skills 
  • Always be prepared
  • Be a good listener
  • Stay in touch with your emotions
  • Don’t shy away from the negotiation
  • Maintain a sense of respect
  • Set the stage for a win-win scenario
  • The 3 golden rules of negotiation
  • Above all else: negotiate in person
  • Key takeaways

Learning the art of negotiation can help you in all facets of your career. But do you have to be a born negotiator or can you learn these skills? In this article, we’ll discuss the art of negotiation in the workplace and how you can develop the skills you need to succeed.

One could argue that life is one big negotiation: Where should we eat? How late can I sleep in? Should we watch “The Bear” or “The Great British Baking Show?” But in the workplace, it can mean the difference between success and career stagnation. Honing your skills and improving your communication methods are important, of course, but it’s vital to be able to identify negotiation prospects to boost your career advancement, including salary, position, and other working conditions.

In this article, we’ll discuss the concept of negotiation in the workplace, including:

  • What is “the art of negotiation?”

  • How can I improve my negotiation skills?

  • What are the three key rules to negotiate?

  • What is the number one rule of negotiation?

What is the art of negotiation?

Negotiation is more than haggling. In the workplace, “negotiation” is creating an arrangement between at least two entities, whether that’s employers, employees, teammates, or external parties that is beneficial and satisfactory to everyone involved. While we tend to associate “negotiation” with salary increases, it can also be applied to resolving disputes, conflicts, and complaints. 

There are a few areas in which you’ll most likely have to do some negotiating during your career:

  • Obtaining a flexible work or vacation schedule 

  • Setting a contract for freelance or consultant work

  • Settling on a union contract

  • Establishing your terms of separation when you leave a job

  • Agreeing on a salary for a new position or a raise for your current one

  • Conflicts with co-workers or management

How to improve your negotiation skills 

Like many other career skills —  like leadership, organization, or teamwork —, negotiation skills can also be developed. Even if it does not come naturally to you, there are some steps you can take that will help you become a better negotiator and help your career. 

Always be prepared

You don’t want to go into a negotiation cold, and you need to know who you’ll be negotiating with. For example, if you're going into a salary negotiation with your boss, you'll need to determine his or her "negotiating style.” In general, you’ll face one of three styles with your boss:

  • Hard. The negotiation will be adversarial. You’re a threat that needs to be neutralized. You won’t get a raise, and you might even lose your job.

  • Soft. They are genuine in their approach and open to coming to a mutually beneficial resolution. You’ll get a raise; maybe not as much as you had hoped, but it is an acceptable increase.

  • Principled. More interested in solving the problem — why are you unhappy with your current salary — rather than actually giving you the raise. 

Be a good listener

Successfully negotiating in the workplace means honing your active listening skills. Bobby Covic, author of Everything’s Negotiable!, explains, “There’s a saying among negotiators that whoever talks most during negotiation loses.” This means that understanding the other party’s motivations is just as important as understanding your own. And you should also pay attention to body language, which is often more informative than what the other person is actually saying.

Stay in touch with your emotions

Even during the most tense negotiations, you shouldn’t feel like you’re made of stone, but you do need to try to manage your more negative emotions such as fear, hostility, or anger. It’s important to remain optimistic and expect the best. For example, if you’re anxious about negotiating a promotion, try to frame it as excitement about a new opportunity. Research shows that this will enhance performance and help support a better outcome. 

Don’t shy away from the negotiation

Being confident when approaching a workplace negotiation will help set a better tone for the whole proceedings. When you’re confident, you give the impression that you know what you want, and you avoid appearing unprepared or uncertain about the outcome.

Maintain a sense of respect

It’s important to avoid offending the other party — especially if you’re negotiating with co-workers from a different culture, as what’s acceptable to you might be offensive to them. Also important is maintaining a sense of calm, and talking to the other party as if they're an equal, not an opponent, even if they're higher on the corporate food chain. When people feel respected, they’re generally more open to discussion.

Set the stage for a win-win scenario

In the workplace, whether you’re negotiating a new salary, position, or conflict, you want to achieve your objectives without manipulating the other person. You don’t want to be someone who wins at the expense of the other party. If the other person feels cheated or taken advantage of, it can ruin your professional reputation and reduce your chances of successfully negotiating with that party down the road.

The 3 golden rules of negotiation

While everyone has their own style of negotiation — and you’d be wise to develop yours — there are three “Golden Rules” you should keep in mind:

  1. Be the one to start the negotiation. The one who starts the journey tends to have more significant influence over where it ends.

  2. Keep the temperature cool. Not literally, of course — don’t be the one to get heated or overemotional. This helps you maintain a sense of control over the proceedings. 

  3. Get everything in writing, so there is no confusion or misunderstandings down the road. 

Above all else: negotiate in person

It’s true that every negotiation is different, and that at other points in your career, you’ll likely be negotiating for different things. However, according to Debbie Madden, co-founder and CEO of Stride Consulting, there is one rule she never deviates from meet in person. This means "meeting with them before you have to meet with them," as you should have an established professional relationship in place before attempting any negotiations. While alternatives such as online meetings or a phone call can be used if absolutely necessary, at no time should negotiations be conducted via email. Building a connection builds trust, which is the foundation for any professional negotiation.

Everyone can learn negotiation skills that will help him or her in their career and achieve the best possible outcome. Some jobs, such as sales or law, require these skills as part of the job description, but no matter your field, developing strong negotiation skills is vital for career advancement, reducing conflict, and maintaining productivity. Knowing your worth and establishing clear and fair boundaries will help you keep your career moving in the right direction, no matter what obstacles you encounter along the way.

Ready to take the next step in your career? Check out our Pathway to Promotion tool for a step-by-step guide to getting the promotion you deserve.

Key takeaways

  1. Identifying opportunities to negotiate can help your career, including salary, promotion, and workplace conflict.

  2. In the workplace, “negotiation” is creating an arrangement between at least two entities, whether that’s employers, employees, teammates, or external parties that is beneficial and satisfactory to everyone involved.

  3. There are ways to improve your negotiation skills, including being prepared, being a good listener, and maintaining respect for all parties involved.

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