3 Keys to Successful Negotiations

negotiation key

I’m just going to say it. Up until about a year ago, I was a terrible negotiator.

When I was 25, I remember being so grateful to have gotten a job offer that I accepted it BEFORE they told me what they were going to pay me. It only got mildly better as I moved onto other companies. It wasn’t until I got an offer with that I finally asked for exactly what I wanted and I got it. Maybe it was a combination of having more confidence and not being desperate to get the job, but it prompted me to boldly ask for what I thought I was worth and deserved. I was literally stunned when they said yes to every one of my requests.

What it really came down to is that I wasn’t a terrible negotiator, I was just completely crappy at negotiating on my own behalf. When sitting on the other side of the table as a recruiter, I had a blast negotiating job offers with candidates. It was exhilarating, like a chess game, to go back and forth with a candidate until they accepted the offer. So, it begged the question of why do I get so uncomfortable and anxious to negotiate for something I want for myself? While studies have shown that this may be more of an issue for women than men, I believe most of us struggle with knowing what we’re worth and asking for what we deserve. After my “luck” with the offer, I wanted to learn everything I could about negotiation techniques in order to maximize my earning potential and help others do the same.

Negotiating is as much of an art as a science but what it really comes down to is meaningful preparation, asking lots of questions, and practicing as much as possible. If you were to compare negotiating to learning how to swing dance, you’d quickly realize that there are a lot of different dance moves and combinations. It can take years to become a great swing dancer but it all starts with learning the basic steps. Here are three basic steps that I feel are critical to take when engaging in an important negotiation:

Know what you want

Clients and friends come to me all the time and ask, “Kelly, how much base salary do you think I should ask for?” or “Do you think this is a fair offer?” My standard response is typically, “Well, what do you want?” Surprisingly, they usually don’t know what they want but they’re worried they will be offered something which undervalues them. Without a goal in mind, It’s like getting into your car and starting to drive before you even know where you’re going. Maybe it’s that you want to be compensated fairly and in line with your peers. Perhaps, you’re not interested in making more money but want to work a four day work week instead. Whatever it is, get crystal clear on what will ultimately satisfy your needs. Otherwise, how will you be able to measure the success of your negotiation?

Ask lots of questions

A great negotiator asks lots of questions so she can learn what the other party is thinking. Leading off with a question is a fantastic strategy. For example, “Do you think I deserve a raise?” “Do you think it would be fair to ask for a base salary of $130K?”

Be patient and quietly wait for their answer. You may learn some very interesting information. From there, you can ask more questions. As children, we probably all had the annoying habit of asking “why” repeatedly. It forced our parents to supply us answers until they made sense to us, right? Try taking a similar approach when negotiating. Ask one question, then ask a follow up question and so on, until you unearth what’s happening on the other party’s end. If you don’t get much of an answer or even a hostile one, simply say, “Ok, is there anything else?” Asking questions give you the opportunity to learn their goals too and keeps you from blindly stabbing in the dark in hopes of hitting something.

Persistence pays off

Often times, it can take asking for what you want three or more different ways before reaching an agreement in a negotiation. If you walk away or give in after the first “no” then you may miss a crucial opportunity. In preparation for your negotiation, think ahead about ways in which you can meet your goal. As the saying goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” In most cases, there are many ways to get what you want and it’s up to you to figure out the various forms.

While my focus has been on negotiating a job offer or raise, these tactics work for every kind of negotiation. Whether you want to lower your credit card APR rate, get a discount on your cable bill, or get an upgrade at a hotel, taking this approach will pay off. If you don’t currently negotiate something at least once a week, it’s time to start practicing. Almost anything is negotiable. After you determine what you want…you just have to ask.

About the Author

As a Career Stylist, Kelly Studer has been transforming careers for ambitious professionals and executives at Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, and everything in between.