Negotiation is not limited to the shot callers and power players of the world. Negotiation is a fact of life, and all of us learn over time to leverage our own natural talents to get the best deal, in countless different situations. What if I told you that the skills used to come to a multimillion dollar agreement in the conference room of a large company are largely the same as those used to resolve a marital dispute or to work out a deal with your child to justify spending so much on their newfound love for surfing?
Sure, the scope, scale, and stakes change from situation to situation. But regardless of the context, negotiation is something that can be taught, trained, and honed to great effect in many different contexts.
Why bother? Because there’s more to negotiation than “winning.” Learning to negotiate will help you to smooth over conflicts, come to better resolutions together, and improve communication between you and your closest friends and loved ones, as well as your clients, suppliers, business partners, and bosses.
First, you must change your perception of what negotiation really is. It’s not about haggling over price with a sleazy used-car salesperson, nor is it about slamming your fist on the table to intimidate people in order to get what you want. It’s also not about all the dirty tricks you hear about, like “good cop, bad cop.” Instead, it’s about trading away things of lower importance to you in return for things of higher importance. In doing so, it’s about navigating the complex emotions and ego that can drive good and bad behavior. And you probably negotiate more often than you realize.
When you’re asked by your child to give them just another 15 minutes before bedtime, they’re negotiating. When you’re deliberating where to go for date night and are craving different places, you’re negotiating. When you’re deciding between two different household purchases or when you’re talking to your spouse about a major purchase or investment, you’re more than likely in the middle of a negotiation.
We negotiate nearly every day, whether we label it as such or not. We don’t need to practice or even consciously recognize a negotiation to engage in one, especially with those closest to us. But we often use tactics and employ strategies that may either be ineffective, potentially damaging, or place us in a poor position.
By developing and honing real negotiation skills, we learn to work toward better outcomes with our loved ones – not just to “win” or get what we want, but to actually come to a better resolution that can protect or strengthen the relationship. When asked “why not?” after denying a request for more screen time before bed, we could simply retort with a “because I said so.” But by instead taking a step back and reframing the entire conversation, we might discover a trade wherein your child can earn their minutes with another task, or by going to bed earlier for the rest of the week if they’re staying up for something specific. This may teach them a valuable lesson (to work toward a deal rather than to beg) while potentially taking some housework off your hands.
Consider, then, a negative negotiation outcome for parents – wherein a child throws a temper tantrum for something they want at the store, and the parent gives in and buys them the object of desire. The parent has taught the child to use their power of a temper tantrum in exchange for something they want. The child learns quickly and will repeat this exercise the next time they are told “no.” Negotiating with children of all ages seems different on the surface from negotiating with adults, but there are lots of similarities to negotiating with an adult, which is why it’s good practice.
Once again, negotiation skills prove valuable at work. Whether you’re looking to negotiate swapping meeting times or conference rooms, or hoping to convince someone to work with you on a certain project, negotiation skills allow you to smoothen the transition toward your collaborative experience and communicate with your coworkers more effectively.
Sometimes, your coworkers might not have your best interests in mind when negotiating with you. If you’ve ever been asked to pick up the slack or do them a favor, or to cooperate in some other fashion that’s obviously detrimental to you, you might’ve been at the receiving end of a negotiation tactic that purposely pushes you out of your comfort zone to coerce you into doing something you didn’t want to do — whether it’s through being aggressive, blaming someone else for the problem, or getting emotional. Learning the ins and outs of basic negotiation helps you to identify these moments and stand your ground.
It’s one thing to negotiate for a better salary – something nearly everyone finds nerve-racking, regardless of their competence or track record – but it’s something else entirely to negotiate for a better job offer once you’ve made it past the interview stage.
Depending on what you do and how long you’ve been looking, you may be in a particularly tough job market, and it can feel risky to try to advocate for yourself any further after gratefully finding a position you can use to support yourself (and your family).
However, if you know your value and you’ve done your research, then negotiating for a better job offer will be less intimidating. This is particularly the case if you are flexible in your approach and are open to other ways to enhance your job offer, like additional vacation, signing bonus, allowances, flexible hours, work-from-home, better title, development opportunities, and many other items you could ask for beyond pay.
Whenever we are in a position to trade something we have for something we want more, we are essentially in a negotiation. Yet as ubiquitous as the process is, negotiation remains a skill — one that you can improve and hone, and one that you should practice regardless of what you do for a living. Being a better negotiator can help you become a better parent, a better worker, a better boss, a better partner.
But to practice it, you need to understand it. When you learn the process and the associated skills, you become more aware of how you and others around you use certain negotiation skills to get what they want, and you find opportunities to hone your own skills and put them to use more effectively and productively.
About the author:
Sure, we could whip up a snappy bio about Brian’s experience as an entrepreneur, business owner, and Fortune 500 executive. While we’re at it, we could go on for an afternoon about his 20 years in marketing and advertising, developing brilliant consumer-engagement strategies for the likes of Google, Amazon, Samsung, Virgin Mobile, Microsoft, and Sony. But knowing Brian, he’d rather we not. Instead, he’d likely ask us to focus on something else — namely, other people ...