How to negotiate more effectively with anyone


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.

16 replies
  1. sarah
    sarah says:

    Interestingly, I finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago and have been an almost fanatical advocate ever since. I’m half afraid people will think I’ve latched onto a self-help book I’m so positive about advocating it. I’ve already started applying it to my everyday life, with very positive results, and am constantly coaching my boyfriend in its principles too. I just wish I could have read it ten years ago!

  2. Mike St. Pierre
    Mike St. Pierre says:

    HI Penelope,
    I absolutely loved Ury’s book (power of a positive no). It’s practical in virtually every circumstance, from parenting to job seeking. I especially appreciated his concept of a backup plan. Thanks for the post,


  3. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    Penelope, I have trouble believing that as a manager you were earning less the other scoopers. Were you so naive that you didn’t seek parity with the other scoopers once you had staked your ground as a reliable employee? Or is there something you are leaving out of the story?

  4. laurence haughton
    laurence haughton says:

    Sarah you could have read it ten years ago. It was called “Getting to Yes.” And twenty years ago it was written by C. Karrass. G. Nierenberg wrote about it thirty years ago and B. Gracian wrote about it in the 1600s.

  5. sarah
    sarah says:

    Laurence, in fact getting to yes has never been a problem for me. I’m good at that part. Really exceptionally good at it. It’s the saying no that I find harder, the not giving up too much on my way to yes. I guess you’re digging (at me?!?) at a ‘rehash’, but in fact he is giving a different focus; the same end point, but looking at the part that is hardest for many of us. There is value in that.

  6. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    One thing that I always tell people about negotiations–always put up a fight. A yes that comes too easily induces negotiator’s remorse.

  7. laurence haughton
    laurence haughton says:

    No I wasn’t “digging” at anyone. I thought you were expressing enthusiasm for the subject so I was mentioning Ury’s other book and some other authors who have added a lot of value to my study of negotiation. That was all.

  8. Mr Tip
    Mr Tip says:

    Be careful where you go with negotiations. In my experience, if you get too much you might be in trouble later. If employer is too anxious to employ you:
    a) you may be exceptional
    b) the employer is desperate

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