8 Skills You Need to Negotiate Successfully
Here are eight skills to use the next time you and your boss, colleague, or client are trying to come to a mutual resolution on an issue.
When you’re negotiating, be mindful that you’re actually paying attention. Often when we’re nervous or focused on our own agenda, we may not fully hear what the other person is saying, Ghedine says. To really listen, you might take a moment to pause after the other person speaks, for example, and essentially repeat back what you just heard, asking if you’ve captured it accurately. “This will allow your brain to catch up with what is being said, and give you time to process,” Ghedine says.
To get to a solution that pleases everyone, you have to be able to see the issue from many different perspectives, not just your own, and brainstorm and evaluate potential paths forward even if they’re not clear-cut. “If you can figure out where your interests align, you can find a solution that will benefit everyone,” Shoemaker says.
For instance, if your boss says they can’t give you a 5% raise this year because everyone’s raises are capped at 3%, think about another creative way to achieve your goal that would benefit your manager. Perhaps you can ask them to create a year-end bonus that’s linked to you reaching specific goals or metrics that are important to the success of your department. Or maybe this is a good opportunity to begin a conversation about a promotion or title change to reflect the additional responsibilities you’ve taken on (the same ones you used to support your case for a larger raise), which could bump up your pay even higher even if it takes longer.
3. Ability to Read Body Language
While you’re negotiating, it’s essential that you pay attention to changes in other people’s body language because it will give you valuable clues about what they’re thinking or feeling. If they start to frown, wrinkle their brow, or cross their arms, that could be a sign that they disagree.
Be careful to keep your own body language and facial expressions neutral as well, leaving your hands at your sides, maintaining eye contact, and smiling. If you’re meeting in person, try to sit on the same side of the conference table to show you’re aligned, and if you’re meeting virtually make sure you both have your cameras turned on to allow you to read each others’ body language as much as possible, Shoemaker says.
To receive a raise or promotion or achieve any other aim you might have in a negotiation, you’ll need to identify a compelling reason and convey it in a way that resonates with your audience. Paint a picture and show them why they should say yes to your proposal—and be sure to equip yourself with evidence.
For instance, if you’re negotiating for promotion based on your creative storytelling skills, you need to persuade your manager that your skills are essential to your department’s success. For instance, saying, “My skills as a digital storyteller have helped this company grow its customer base by 20%. Remember the incredible engagement we got when the ‘Raise Your Paw’ pet food campaign went viral? That project alone blew past our projections for customer shares by 53% and caused a 15% spike in sales for the month,” is much more persuasive than saying, “I’m a talented storyteller.”
5. Emotional Intelligence
Negotiation requires self-awareness, empathy, and the ability to manage your own emotions and recognize the emotions of others. Say your manager is fidgeting more than usual in your meeting and seems a bit flustered or distracted. That’s a signal that this may not be the best moment to bring up a non-urgent request you’ve been planning to make and you’d be better off waiting a few days.
Emotional intelligence also means not crying or yelling when you don’t get what you want, Shoemaker says. A good negotiator can stay positive and constructive even when they’re unhappy with the outcome.
6. Ability to Communicate Succinctly
Most people share too much information during negotiations, especially if they get nervous or haven’t thought through the case they want to make, Ghedine says. When someone asks you a question, stay focused on answering it rather than providing extra commentary, she says.
For instance, if you’re making the case to your manager that you should be able to work a four-day week, stick to the facts. Explain that you’ll work 10 hours a day, four days a week, and you’ll make sure that any deadlines from that week will be met before you clock out on Thursday. Refrain from discussing why you need Friday off or how it will benefit your family. It’s also a good idea to emphasize the point you want your boss to remember—that you’ll hit all your deadlines on or ahead of schedule. Ghedine recommends ending your pitch with your most important point and taking a short pause before and after the statement.
Don’t forget to show your human side and ask for help when you’re struggling or for more information when you don’t know the answer. It helps you stay calm and fosters empathy in others, says career coach Jennifer Tardy, who’s helped hundreds of job seekers negotiate higher salaries.
For instance, if your boss drops a new project on your desk when you’re already struggling to finish your work, it’s best to be honest that you can’t complete everything on your to-do list. You could negotiate the added workload by saying, “I’m a bit overwhelmed right now. I’m already working on five high-priority projects. If you want me to pick up this new priority, I need to let something else go.”
Throughout your career you’ll need to advocate for things that are important to you, whether it’s a particular approach to a cross-departmental project or time off to be a caregiver. Self-advocacy might also mean standing up to a colleague who treats you unfairly or a boss who never seems to put you up for the projects you think will advance your career. It’s about having the self-awareness to understand what you need and want and building up the confidence to articulate it to other people—in other words, exactly what you need to do in many negotiations.