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If you’re like me, you hate negotiating. I dislike confrontation, and I fear making presumptuous requests or imposing on people. I sometimes walk away from negotiations with the queasy feeling that I’ve taken advantage of my negotiation partner — or that they’ve gotten the better of me. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Striking a deal should improve the lives of both parties, and in the process it can even strengthen the relationship between them. We negotiate all the time — when buying car, asking for a raise, or planning a vacation with a loved one (I’ll go with you to the museum if we can head to the beach afterward) — so improving one’s skills and comfort with deal-making can be a wise investment.
Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer, business-school professors at Columbia and Wharton, respectively, have done extensive research on negotiation tactics and the psychology behind them. Many of their experiments involve negotiation games in which participants role-play as a buyer and seller or a job candidate and employer and earn points for extracting better offers in terms of prices, salaries, and benefits.
Here are 11 pieces of advice from their book that can help make anyone a better negotiator.
Meet Face-to-Face — Usually
Meeting with someone in person strengthens the relationship and increases trust. But it’s only helpful when an interaction is at least partially cooperative, or still up for grabs. When two individuals feel strongly competitive, an in-person meeting tends to onlyheighten their feelings of animosity toward each other. In those cases, email might be better.
Be a Mimic, Online and (Sometimes) Off
Mirroring another person’s body language (but not in an obvious, creepy way) makes you appear more cooperative and trustworthy. In the authors’ research, using subtle mimicry helps both parties reach a better dealduring negotiations, but especially the mimicker. Other research shows that copying another person’s writing style during an email negotiationalso works. Emoticons are okay if the other person uses them, too. ;-)
Understand the Difference Between Perspective-Taking and Empathy
Trying to understand what other people are thinking helps you propose solutions they’re more likely to accept. You can creatively craft deals that meet both parties’ interests. The authors have found that when experimental participants are explicitly told to use perspective-taking during a negotiation, they expand the pie and get themselves a larger slice of it. Contrast this with empathy, however, which means actually feelingthe other person’s emotions — when you focus on empathizing with your counterpart, it makes you more likely to give in too much.
I know what I just said. But although you shouldn’t empathize too much, you shouldn’t keep your heart completely cold either. In a competitive interaction, perspective-taking can make negotiations break down, because you’re anticipating aggression and you preempt it with your own. A touch of empathy can help soften the relationship.
Make the First Offer
Most research says that it pays to make the first offer. This is because of the anchoring effect: When people make an estimation — say, for how much something is worth — they’re unconsciously drawn toward whatever number is put in front of them. If you make a large request, you anchor the negotiation around that point. Moving first can backfire, however, if you don’t know where your negotiation partner stands: You might undersell yourself. If you’re in the dark, the authors recommend asking a lot of questions to suss out what exactly the other party wants and how much they want it. Then make the first offer.
Sometimes getting something is as simple as asking for it. Many people fear being too aggressive with their offers and causing offense or scuttling a deal. But the authors have found that most people are actually too timid. Making an ambitious offer — as long as it’s not laughable — sets a high anchor, and it also gives you lots of room to negotiate: Having space to offer concessions makes you seem cooperative. It also allows the other party to save face by feeling as though they drove a hard bargain.
Make Your Offer Precise
Precise offers seem better informed and act as heavier anchors. Asking $20,000 for a used car seems somewhat arbitrary — maybe you’d sell for $18,000. But $19,780 seems harder to push around.
When there are multiple components to an offer — say, salary, vacation days, and stock options — make two offers that are different but of the same value to you. This strategy lets you make stronger offers while coming across as flexible and cooperative. The authors have found that the technique secures better deals for the people making the offers, and also those choosing between them.
Be a Mama Bear
Proactive men are called assertive, while the same behavior in women is called abrasive. Women can experience backlash for pushing as hard as their male counterparts. But if they advocate on behalf of others — let’s say their department or family — research shows they negotiate just as hard as men, and they avoid the backlash. In fact, women are expected to be tough when they advocate for others. Are gender biases fair? No. Canacknowledging them and playing to them get you a better deal? Yes.
Ask for Advice
If you’re not sure how to handle a negotiation, ask someone you admire for help. Don’t worry about looking stupid. The authors have found that unless your question is really obvious, asking for advice (on any topic) actually makes you seem more competent, because your source sees that you smartly recognize his or her savvy. You can also circumvent a negotiation altogether by asking the other party — say, a service rep — for advice on how to solve your problem. Suddenly that person becomes your advocate rather than your adversary.
Don’t Look Too Happy
Suppose you just got everything you wanted out of a deal. You really pulled one over on the other guy, didn’t you? Well, don’t smile too broadly. Research shows that displays of joy make the other party feel as though they’ve gotten a bad deal by not pushing hard enough. Keep that excitement contained and everyone will be better off.