Negotiating 101: Preparation is Key

Negotiating 101: Preparation is Key

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Most workers think of negotiating as a win/lose proposition that requires fighting for what they want, followed by ultimately beating or losing to their opponents. In reality, however, a successful negotiation is a communication process, where both parties strive for a mutually acceptable result. A good negotiator doesn't want a defeated opponent seeking revenge at a later date, and knows that win/win negotiations build relationships for the long haul.

Whether we're searching for a job or trying to build a successful career, all of need to know how to negotiate for what we want. Below are some tips for negotiating effectively throughout your career:

1. Negotiating is a process, not an event. Lay the groundwork ahead of time.

Successful professionals take responsibility for what they want, and how to achieve it. They recognize that partnering with management and co-workers is a smart career strategy. If you want your manager solidly in your corner when the time comes to make demands, schedule regular conferences with them to do the following:

  • Document your achievements
  • Discuss ways to improve your performance
  • Create goals and actions plans
  • Compare planned versus actual results
  • Ask for a mentor's advice

When problems arise, confronting them immediately or calling for reinforcements before things grow out of control is vital. Regularly tracking your performance helps you catch problems early, and keeps you in a strong negotiating position. In a similar vein, whether or not you like all the members on your team, it's important to continue giving 100% and avoid disparaging any fellow workers. You never know if you'll need one of them to vouch for you when you're bargaining for a raise or promotion.

In addition, to help avoid office conflicts in the first place, always explain to management and your peers what you need from them. Your needs may seem obvious to you, but your co-workers aren't mind readers. Being up front about your expectations helps set the stage for when you're ready to ask for something.

2. Negotiation requires preparation. Spontaneity is for pros.

Negotiating doesn't come easily to most of us. Think you can walk into your boss' office and "wing it" when asking for a raise? Don't be surprised if you come out empty-handed. Instead, to make sure you negotiate effectively, answer these questions ahead of time:

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What other options would be acceptable?
  • How will these options benefit the other parties involved?
  • What problems could they have with my request? How can I solve them?
  • What leverage do I have? Am I bargaining from a position of strength or weakness?
  • How could variables like office politics, traditions or economic conditions affect my argument? Can I use any of these to help my case?

Whether you're sitting across the table from HR, a manager or anyone else in a position of power, keep in mind that negotiating can be both stressful and emotional. It's easy to lose your cool. However, you'll be much more likely to find success and gain the respect of your fellow negotiators by maintaining control. Use these tactics to help you:

  • Ask for 100% of what you want, if you think it's a genuinely fair request.
  • Listen to what others are saying. They might suggest things you hadn't thought of.
  • Separate opinions from fact. Don't let your perceptions dictate your reality.
  • Maintain perspective. This negotiation may be important, but it's not life or death.

Lastly, you'd be best served avoiding ultimatums, unless you're ready to act on them. Bluffing may occasionally work in poker, but it's never successful at the negotiating table. And just as you've laid the groundwork by making sure management was aware of your efforts and expectations, take time to understand their needs as well. That way you can begin negotiations with the expectation of finding a win/win solution. Otherwise you run the risk of winning the battle, but ultimately losing the war.

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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