Let me see if this scenario sounds familiar: Whether you are 23 or 53, when it comes time to make a big purchase, you simply do not feel comfortable or capable doing it alone. Maybe your go-to negotiation partner is your dad, or your college room mate, or just a friend of yours who seems better at this, but whoever it is, they must be there to help you. If they are not, you leave the transaction certain that you were taken advantage of, somehow. You paid too much, or you were sold a protection plan you do not need, or your payment terms are going to sink you. It’s frustrating, it is scary, and it happens to more people than you may think.
This probably will not be a news flash to you, but negotiation is a skill set. While you may be sitting there thinking “Well, some people have it, and some people don’t…”, I am here to tell you that can change. You do not have to be born with a “good negotiator” personality, or else be doomed to always getting a bad deal. You can learn negotiation training yourself. You may be surprised how frequently it can help you too. Large purchases are the first thing everyone thinks of, but these skills can also be put to great use when asking for vacation time, when looking to be promoted at work, or even in everyday situations like school work, or household responsibilities. Let’s look at a few examples.
Prepare a Realistic Time Frame
My husband and I used to own this awful car. It was the result of an impulse buy he made in college, and we had been living with the consequences for a few years. This “cool looking car” that he had wanted so desperately after driving a beat up old work truck for years, turned out to be way more trouble than it was worth. The convertible top leaked uncontrollably, the interior had an odd smell as a result, and the “chip” in the windshield had grown to a crack spanning the width of the front window.
Still, we took our time getting rid of it. That car I described might sound like a nightmare, and it was in some ways, but that does not mean we should lose out on a trade in value. Your situation might not involve an old car, but chances are you are anxious to get out of a bad situation, and soon. That circumstance can lead to a false sense of “desperation” on your part, which makes you ripe for being taken advantage of. I wanted rid of that car like nothing else in my life, but if I walked into a dealership with that attitude, it would have been evident from a mile away.
Planning a realistic time frame is of the utmost importance if you want to negotiate successfully. In our case, while I would have gladly walked away from that car at the drop of a hat, I had to keep a few things in mind: it was running perfectly, it was paid off, and it was maybe one detail cleaning away from being bearable again. With those facts in front of me, it became easier to keep emotion out of it. If you are in a situation where you need to make a big purchase, be sure to plan out how long you are willing to wait, and be as realistic as possible. Perhaps you could wait one month, but definitely not three. Be firm in your time frame, and you will see better results.
Be Open, Despite What Everyone Says
Want some bad negotiation advice? Here it is: “When you enter into a negotiation, keep everything close to the vest, and guard your information fiercely.” Everyone seems to think that is Rule #1 of negotiation, but in reality, all that does is lead to a closed off, and potentially hostile situation.
If you are looking to ask for more money at work, you should approach your superiors with confidence, and with a concrete pay range in mind. You should communicate this to them, so that they are able to begin negotiations with you. If you were to take that “guard your secrets” approach, how on Earth would your superiors know what pay range you are asking for? How would you get the opportunity to show them why it is fair?
People tend to respond to you in the same way you are behaving towards them. Being open, friendly, clear and confident will actually get you much better results than showing up with a standoffish attitude. If you volunteer information, they will too. If you seem stressed out and unfriendly, they will too. Attitude has a lot to do with successful negotiating, so make sure yours is adjusted accordingly.
Do Your Homework
The more you know about a given situation, the better you can negotiate. It goes without saying that knowing the average price of a home in a given neighborhood, or knowing the average salary for someone of your age and experience is going to help you make sure you are being treated fairly. Still, there are other situations where knowing the “averages” might come in handy, and they do not always have to do with money.
Have you ever had the sneaking suspicion that your child is being treated unfairly at school? Is there an unreasonable rule put forth by your neighborhood association that you would like to see removed? Here is where your detective work is going to pay off. By taking some time to look into similar situations, you can begin to get a feel for how other scenarios like your own have played out. Have other parents been able to get extra math tutoring for their third grader? How did they do it? Have other neighborhoods begun allowing tasteful holiday decorations outdoors? What are some examples?
When you can approach your negotiations with an outlined plan, you are far more likely to get the results you want. It can sometimes be tempting to rush in as soon as you sense something is amiss, but vague requests of “Could this be better somehow?” will get vague results. Instead, showing up with a concrete plan such as “I would like my child tested and evaluated this week to see if he qualifies for extra assistance. If he does, I want that assistance to begin before the end of the month, so that we can all begin seeing an improvement,” is clear, metered and specific.
Be Prepared to Walk Away
Now, this is a piece of advice you have probably heard before, but I want to elaborate on it a bit. Going along with the “be open” advice from earlier, make sure your “walk away” point is a reasonable one. Walking into a negotiation with an all or nothing approach is not ideal. You are asking for flexibility, so you yourself need to be prepared to be flexible too. Still, you do deserve to be treated fairly. Have a minimum acceptable scenario in mind, and be firm about it. If your negotiation partner is completely unwilling to meet that minimum, then you can and should walk away. Someone else will be willing to work with you.
Need a crash course on successful negotiation skills? Udemy has a great course called “Learn Negotiation in One Day“. Sometimes those time crunches are unavoidable, so make sure you are going into it prepared.