Negotiating is not a work skill—it’s a life skill. File it in the have-good-social-skills category, not with make-more-money.
People with good social skills do much better in the world than people with high IQs by all measures except for winning the Nobel prize for economics. So then it should make sense to you that you should think about negotiating tactics all the time.
So here is the research about negotiating that I’ve dug up recently.
1. Pick the best person to negotiate with.
Men who have daughters are more empathetic and are more likely to give you a raise. So if you have a choice, send a request their way. Also, power makes people less generous, so you are also more likely to get concessions from someone who just recently rose to power, rather than someone who is a long-standing part of the power establishment.
But not all negotiations are about getting a raise, so a better way to think about negotiations is get yourself across the table from the right person for any particular issue.
I learned this rule of thumb when I was getting divorced. I kept putting off filing for divorce because I hoped my husband would change his mind. He never changed his mind, but he never filed any papers. Finally, my investors convinced me that I was hurting myself by letting things drag on. And they told me if I wanted a smooth, easy divorce, I should get the two best lawyers and put them in a room together.
I did that. I hired one for me and I hired one for my husband and I think that’s one of the reasons that we celebrate every holiday together, and he hangs out for days at at time at our house: The Farmer and the Ex and me and the kids. So pick the best person to negotiate with to get the best results.
2. Find a weak link in an unfair system.
Being a whistleblower gets you nowhere. Working around the system is a much more effective way to negotiate a beneficial outcome for yourself.
When I was being sexually harassed by my boss, instead of making a big stink about it, I privately asked his boss to move me to a department I’d been wanting to switch to anyway. It was easy for him to do—much easier than firing my boss, for example. And I got what I wanted: a better job.
All systems have some amount of unfairness, because the world is not perfectly equal. Instead of trying to force the whole world toward perfect equality, look for a weak link that you can use to get what you want. Think about Rosa Parks: on the way to changing the world for everyone, you start by negotiating to change things for yourself.
Bradley Cooper’s response to Hollywood’s pay gap is another great example of finding a weak link. Because he made himself the weak link in an unfair system. He announced he would disclose his salary to women working with him so they are better armed to negotiate for themselves.
3. Pay attention to values (theirs, not yours).
Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto writes that the way to convince others of the merits of your arguments is not by passionately advocating for them, but rather by casting them with your opponents’ values in mind.
In this vein, personality type is a great way for you to understand what drives other people. So often we assume that what is important to us is important to everyone. But it’s much more likely that what is most important to us is unique to our personality type. For example, many ESTJs are shocked to hear that most people do not judge their workday by how many things they accomplished. And INFJs are shocked to hear that other people do not care about the values that INFJs hold as sacrosanct.
This professional hostage negotiator says to be aware of how each exchange impacts the other side emotionally.Being kind is super important because you are six times more likely to get what you want if you are likable during negotiations. One way to make sure the other side perceives you as kind is to keep your emotions in check. In fact, if you focus on the emotions of the other side, you will learn a lot about their position and you more likely find a path to agreement.
4. Know when to stop.
When it comes to pushing the limits of negotiation, women are penalized more heavily than men, but men also lose jobs when they negotiate too hard. The big issue is knowing the cost to the other side. What is their best alternative to dealing with you? If you have nothing to leverage, your best tool is to know what is most important to you and what is least important. If you are negotiating with someone in an honest way, they are likely to give you a little something, even when they have all the power and they don’t have to.
If you have a sense that you are doing more harm than good in your negotiations then you are probably right. But one way to be really clear about when that moment comes is to negotiate process before substance. At some point you have to either take it or leave it. And in some cases, this is where the furtive negotiations start.
For example, if you are negotiating who does laundry, and you lose, then maybe you will not wear all the fun clothes your partner likes to see you in because it means more laundry.
If you get a much lower salary offer than you expected, consider taking the job, hiring someone outside the US to do the job for a very low wage, while you continue looking for another full-time job.
5. Embrace conflict as an essential path to growth.
If you’re looking for a good book on the topic, Making Conflict Work has great self assessments like “Are you chronically autonomous?” and “Are you born to rebel?” The workbook motif usually annoys me, but this one made me think about how each person can contribute to making conflict productive.
Often books that publishers send me go right to recycling, but The Power of Positive Confrontation caught my eye as something the Farmer could benefit from—how else is he going to cope with my love for conflict? I put it on his nightstand, in a messy sort of way, like I absent-mindedly left it there on the way to something else.
He didn’t jump at the bait. In fact, he put it back on the kitchen table, which he sees as my ad-hoc filing cabinet for the onslaught of books I receive each week.
I put it on his bookshelf. After a few months, he moved it to my nightstand.
Instead of initiating (positive) confrontation about how I think he needs to read the book and needs to stop messing with my piles of books in other places, I read the book. The book has a formula: “Say what’s bothering you, ask for what you want, and check in with the other person.”
I’m a quick reader. And a quick learner. So it takes me just one day to tell the Farmer I am bothered by how he keeps putting the book in my pile. I want him to read it.
I’ll check in with him later. Right now he’s gone, putting the book in the back of his tool shed or someplace he’s hoping I won’t find it.