Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. —JFK
Negotiation is a life skill. It’s not that you can’t negotiate but that you haven’t learned how.
You negotiate many times during a day: figuring out household tasks with your spouse and other family members; making plans with friends that fit in with the other events in your calendar; or talking to your boss about the projects you want to manage.
Not everyone feels at ease dealing with the give-and-take conversations that require speaking up for what they want. Lacking basic information about negotiation, they prefer to back away and not even attempt to negotiate. Additionally, some people have inaccurate assumptions about negotiation. You may be holding onto incorrect assumptions that are at the root of your discomfit: that’s why your heart races, your palms sweat, and you feel flooded with fear, anger, or confusion when you have to negotiate with others.
A crucial step in learning how to negotiate is to bring to light the assumptions that stop you from speaking up for what you want.
You can add new skills and knowledge to your negotiation toolbox once you address the assumptions that are in the way of speaking up for yourself.
In my experience as a mediator and negotiation coach, I recognized three misguided assumptions that do the most harm.
- Negotiation equals conflict.
- Negotiation is unpredictable.
- Only people who are naturally persuasive or have a black belt in negotiation can be successful.
Misguided Assumption #1 – Negotiation Is A Confrontation
Many people find it challenging to separate negotiation and conflict, but there’s a big difference. If you start out assuming negotiation is a type of conflict, you’ve got it backward. Conflict is a serious disagreement or argument, often a struggle over power or resources. Serious conflicts can continue for days, weeks, months, or years.
Negotiation is not the same as conflict. Quite the opposite: Negotiation is one of several methods used to resolve disputes. Besides negotiation, standard methods for settling conflict include litigation, where aggrieved people hire lawyers; mediation, in which a neutral third party facilitates a discussion that is similar to negotiation; and arbitration, which uses an expert, neutral third party to hear both sides and make a final decision. Negotiation is different because the parties communicate directly with each other without a third party to settle their differences.
Many people—especially women—are intimidated by conflict. They worry that interpersonal discord will damage their relationships. When we equate negotiation with conflict, we can become anxious or fearful, and we’ll avoid it at all costs. As a result, instead of engaging in even simple everyday negotiations, you fall back on familiar indirect strategies that haven’t worked in the past. For women, these default strategies include:
- You postpone asking for what you want, hoping it will work out somehow.
- You drop hints hoping the other person will understand what you’re asking for.
- You explain at length why you are asking because you expect the other person to empathize with your story, see what you want, and offer it to you.
Reframe and Get Free
If we reframe negotiation as something other than conflict, what is it? At its core, negotiation is about talking. In addition to speaking, conversing with others relies on listening and asking questions. Negotiation is an exchange of information—a conversation that helps you get what you want through dialogue, collaborative problem solving, and joint decision-making. Negotiation is a two-way conversation about finding common ground and solutions everyone can live with. You already have these fundamental skills; it’s just a matter of using them with more discernment when you negotiate.
Misguided Assumption #2 – Negotiation Is Unpredictable
Assuming negotiation is unpredictable can derail you. Maybe you think negotiation is a mind game, and you don’t know the rules. You believe that it is a mysterious process that is difficult to understand, something that will never make sense to you. For example, you ask yourself questions like these:
- Is someone in charge?
- If someone tells me No, is the negotiation over?
- When should I accept someone’s offer?
Reframe and Get Free
If you haven’t studied negotiation, you may not realize that there is an underlying, predictable process from start to completion. It incorporates five primary stages, and the more you practice these, the more comfortable you’ll become using them. The stages are not always sequential—you might move through the process in a different order than I’ve listed here, and at times even skip a step. However, they do comprise an orderly progression of events. When you understand the stages in the process, you’ll always know where you are in the negotiation.
The five basic stages are
- Sharing information,
- Proposing solutions,
- Evaluating the proposed solutions and selecting the best, and
- Completing by writing up the decisions.
In the same way that you learned to balance your checkbook or prepare a meal by following a simple process, you can learn how to move through a negotiation from start to finish. By looking at these stages as a road map to resolution, you can track where you are in the conversation and where you want to go next. Until you’re satisfied, don’t let anyone push you past a stage where you want more clarity or information.
It’s perfectly fine to tell your counterpart, “I’m ready to talk about solutions now,” or “I have enough information to move forward. How about you?” Or, “What if we back up a little? I have another idea for resolving [the issue] that I want your input on.”
Here are some guidelines to overcome your fears:
- Don’t get confused.
- Don’t rush.
- Take time to get all the information you need at each stage of the process.
- Don’t agree to terms that don’t work for you before you’ve explored all the possible options.
Misguided Assumption #3 – Negotiation Requires a Black Belt
Most people have a natural talent. Maybe you are a natural in drawing, math, storytelling, or athletics. Then, there are people who have a natural persuasiveness. I’ve observed three distinct types of naturally persuasive people.
The first group is naturally charismatic because they are outgoing, enthusiastic, and optimistic. They get others excited about their ideas and make you feel included, so it’s easy to go along with what they are saying.
The second group includes people who have astute reasoning ability. They express arguments and ideas in ways that make sense to you and are easy to follow. They believe what they are saying, and so do you.
The last group includes people who are intuitive, empathetic, and nurturing. They’re interested in your thoughts and emotions, and they are tuned in to what you and others are feeling, which makes you appreciate that they care about you. As a result, you want to reciprocate by supporting what they want.
And yes, some people do have black belts in negotiation—that’s because they build their careers on being able to make deals. These people include hostage negotiators, diplomats, lawyers, lobbyists, property developers, labor union negotiators, and sports and talent agents.
They know more than you do about negotiation because their professions demand it. They know the inside perspective of how negotiations work, stuff you don’t know but you can learn. These black-belt negotiators have had years of experience and have taken many advanced courses to stay on top of their fields. You might meet them in everyday negotiations. For example, they could be a neighbor whose new fence encroaches on your property or a parent whose child has gotten into a schoolyard fight with your child.
Reframe and Get Free
Even though you are less experienced in negotiation, you can learn negotiation skills. While you may not be naturally persuasive, you can master many of the skills that successful negotiators use, such as how to prepare your strategy ahead of time and how to stick to facts instead of letting your emotions take over.
In most of your everyday negotiations, your counterpart is most likely a person like you, perhaps with more experience and confidence, or maybe with less. You don’t need a natural persuasiveness or a black belt to negotiate a better salary, get your kids to help around the house, or manage a team at work. But you can change your assumptions.
Change Your Assumptions and Your Behavior Will Change
From my experience training and teaching people how to negotiate, I recommend dealing with misguided assumptions before adding skills and knowledge to your negotiation toolbox. The reason for this is simple: when we are learning new skills, it’s tempting to give up when we don’t succeed right away. We often fail because we’re holding on to subconscious assumptions that sabotage new behaviors. When our assumptions operate on a subconscious level, we can’t identify them, and they keep getting in the way.
With a little help, you’ll find it is possible to stand back, look at your assumptions objectively, and replace them with objective and realistic understandings.
- Believe change is possible.
- Be open to adopting new thoughts and assumptions.
- Experiment with new assumptions and beliefs and observe the outcomes you get when you change your thinking.
This blog is adapted from my new book: Perfect Pitch How to speak up for yourself in everyday relationships. Available soon on Amazon!
What belief or fear keeps you from negotiating for what you want? Are you willing to change your mindset so you too can get different and better results? Let me hear from you by commenting below.