During my first job interview, my mom drove me to 31-Flavors while we practiced interview questions.
One question we did not practice was “How much money are you expecting?”
When the ice cream store owner asked, I said, “Well, my parents are cutting off my allowance for the summer so I’d like twenty dollars a week.” That seemed like a lot because I wouldn’t need money for school lunches.
Later, my mom pointed out that I gave a number so low that it would have been illegal. In the end, the owner paid me minimum wage for a 40-hour week, and because I had asked for so little at the beginning, by the time I was a doing the job of a manager I was making less than some scoopers.
So I quit, and moved to a pizza parlor where I got extra money for cutting the salami with the machine that cut peoples’ fingers. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized there are established strategies for salary negotiations, and if you follow them, you will likely get the salary you deserve without risking the loss of a limb.
I got a lot of practice doing that in my twenties – having about ten jobs in ten years. I got a sense of who would negotiate and who wouldn’t. I learned to read people in business. And then I realized that you can use these skills for a lot more than just salary.
One of my bosses gave me the book Getting To Yes. He said the book would help me manage because every management moment actually has implied negotiations.
When I went to couples therapy with my husband, the therapist assigned us reading. (Who knew therapist assigned books?) But guess what it was? Getting to Yes.
It was a great idea. Because then instead of paying a therapist to entertain our insane ideas of changing each other. We learned how to make the other person feel happy about giving us what we want by making sure that they get something, too.
So I was excited when I had the opportunity to interview the author of Getting toYes, William Ury. He’s director of the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard, and his new book is The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. Here are his five best tips for doing well in negotiations.
1. Take a break.
Ury calls this “going to the balcony” in order to get a big picture handle on what’s going on so that you are not getting too worked up over irrelevant details. He says, “When we negotiate when we’re angry we give the best speech we’ll ever regret.”
2. Know your BATNA.
This is negotiator-speak for “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.” That is, if you have to walk away, what’s the best you can get? This tells you how much power you have in negotiations. The person who needs the agreement the least has the best BATNA and the most power.
3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Ury describes negotiation as an exercise in influence. “You need to change someone’s mind, so you need to know where they are right now.” This means listening more than talking. And the first question to ask is Why. You will hear their needs, but you need to know the underlying cause for the need. For example, if your boss wants you to work a 16-hour day. To negotiate with your boss, you need to understand why – what needs to get done in those hours. Maybe you can get it done a different way.
4. Learn to say no.
“In order to get to the right deal, you need to be able to say no to the wrong deal. Saying no is fundamental to the process of negotiation.”
Tip from the department of great-if-you’re-him: Warren Buffet once said that he doesn’t understand “getting to yes” because he just says no until he sees a perfect yes. Buffet says you only have to give four or five great yes responses in his work in order to be a billionaire.
5. Be clear on your values.
For those of us who might not see a perfect yes, deciding on no is more complicated, and we have to be really clear in our own minds about what we value and what we need. Sometimes a no is surrounded by a deeper yes. For example. You say yes to the values, no to the tactics and yes to going forward. Ury calls this a positive no. But he warns that if you’re in doubt, then the answer if probably no.
What I take away from Ury is that good negotiation is a combination of good self-knowledge and good people skills. And, not surprisingly, this is the combination that gets you a lot of things in life.
There are opportunities in each of our lives to practice negotiations constantly — even, as Web Worker Daily points out, in email. You can do it with a spouse, with a boss, with your neighbor who doesn’t clean the yard. The better you get at the small stuff, the easier the big moments of negotiation will feel.