Strategies that will change the way you negotiate

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.


16 replies
  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    Another great post, and another that makes me realize how I could be more effective than I’ve been.

    (Speaking as an INFJ who’s noticed that others aren’t as grateful to him for his moral crusades as he’d expected.)

  2. Mathias
    Mathias says:

    Some really interesting points here!

    From my perspective, negotiating always comes down to one thing: incentives. You simply need to make the other person WANT to do what you want him to do. If you just point out how he benefits from helping you, he’ll be that much more inclined to do so.

    Humans are selfish creatures – why not use it?

  3. Karen
    Karen says:

    I liked the (3) Pay attention to values section. Reading the “Farmer and the book on the nightstand” exchange made me think there are other values to consider in addition to personality type. It struck me as very “Midwest” for the the farmer to behave like that, regardless of his personality type. And the fact that you like conflict seems very “New York or Northeast.”

    Personally, I have a hard time with the “Midwest” socialization. I wonder if you could comment on this, or if you see a correlation between Midwest socialization and one set of personality types.

  4. Mercury
    Mercury says:

    That’s pretty fascinating that men with daughters are more empathetic. I wonder if they feel more empathy towards women only (perhaps they subconsciously picture their daughter in every woman’s shoes) or if they’re just more empathetic in general?

  5. Heather
    Heather says:

    “How else is he going to cope with my love for conflict?”…my comment really has nothing to do with your post, just wanted to share that your love of conflict is exactly why you are so compelling to read. I, too, love conflict so your sometimes outrageous points (here and on the HS blog) are so fun to mull over in my mind and with others as well.

    Question for you: aside from taking your personality type series of courses (which no doubt would be great but too time consuming right now), what would you recommend as the best resource to learn how what other personality types value?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Google the four letters of the type you’re interested in. There will tons of information. A lot of times jokes about a given type are the beat way to see into that type. And of course there are tons of jokes about type to be found online.


  6. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Penny, this one is destined to be a sleeper hit. There’s no sex or controversial material, but it is great and I’ll be sure to send it to my daughters to read.
    This article reminds me of the adage, “It is better to be loved than feared in a fire fight.” If you haven’t heard it before it is because I made it up based on my experience. In tough situations, when your survival is at stake, no one will put themselves in harm’s way to save you unless they like you. Negotiations against a stronger party are like that, you only seem to get something if the stronger party likes you or sees your potential.
    My 2centsworth.

    • Gracie
      Gracie says:

      Actually, harris497, it’s best to be *necessary* and *skilled* in a fire fight. But then, I’m INTJ and hold the values of efficacy and usefulness above all else. ;-)

  7. Anna
    Anna says:

    “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 is something I will apply to my situations of frustration when dealing with SJ’s as an NP. SJ’s have a totally different metric for what is important. Saves a lot of grief to remember that. Combine that with Enneagram types and it reveals a lot. My mom is an ESFJ type 8 which means she will aggressively push her ESFJ values. Totally different MBTI type + aggression means that I should expect interactions to go accordingly.

  8. Ali Mayar
    Ali Mayar says:

    Some fantastic points you brought up. Negotiating is tough, but ultimately you have to take into consideration incentives. Who is getting what, etc. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Silvia Garces
    Silvia Garces says:

    Negotiating skills are tough to acquire and I think that what you said was really helpful. All of the points are very well explained and you threw in some facts that will be useful later on. I didn’t know that me with daughters are more empathetic. I also liked the way you framed conflict, it is very important being aware of it and accepting it. “Say what’s bothering you, ask for what you want, and check in with the other person.” That phrase says it all, very informative post, thanks for sharing.

  10. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    These are all great tips for negotiating. Knowing where the weak link lies is a smart move, because it can save you in a tight pinch. Thank you for sharing this!

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