Seven Tips To Help Professionals Negotiate Like Ninjas

April 3, 2012

This is a guest post on best practices around social networking from career expert and author Selena Rezvani. For similar posts check out our series on networking tips and tricks here. - Ed.

Negotiating on the job is one of the most untapped career strategies among professionals, even though these are the most financially significant conversations we have at work! I'm not just referring to salary requests here, but negotiations about flexible work arrangements, parental leave plans, part-time work schedules — even deciding work assignments we accept. Here are a handful of my favorite negotiating tips for strengthening your confidence and impact at work:

  1. Confer with Your Network: What do you suppose is the most underused tool in a negotiation? If you answered "my social network,'' you're right. Your connections (and even your 2nd and 3rd-degree connections) can offer you many kinds of help, from giving insight into your counterpart's motivations and style to acting as sounding boards. Do not neglect this rich source of perspective and support!
  2. Open Big: Realize that people suffer from low expectations more than anything else in negotiation, a factor which makes them aim low and get too little or paralyzes them into not negotiating at all. Always start with an ambitious outcome that would delight and thrill you, not just simply satisfy you.
  3. Close the Gap: Sometimes a simple switch in the way we view our role can be action enough to drive a negotiation or debate into a favorable direction. Don't overestimate the other party's power. Instead, see the other person in a non-deferential and a more equal, peer-to-peer way; this can make all the difference in getting the outcomes we want.
  4. Hear "No" as "Not Yet": One big mistake many people make is to assume that when someone says "no," the matter is closed for discussion. Often the timing just wasn't right the first time so a second ask (timed better or under different circumstances) will do the trick. It's more than okay to be tenacious and ask again — in fact, if you never hear "no," you're probably not asking for enough.
  5. Negotiate Even if There's No Precedent: It's okay to ask for an exception to the rule. For example, who cares that no one else has ever asked for a phase-back return from maternity leave? Be the first one to ask for it, making the case as to how work will get done, how operations will continue to flow smoothly, and how you and your boss can build in checkpoints along the way to evaluate how it's going.
  6. Do Pre-Work: Negotiators can gain an advantage by taking the initiative to write a draft plan for whatever it is they are proposing. This kind of plan is strengthened if there's also a signature or approval line. By illuminating the key details of your proposal, you save the other side time (particularly if they need to vet it with someone else) and make it easy for them to say "yes."
  7. Don't Give In: While in a negotiation, get comfortable drawing out the conversation — or even postponing it — if need be, rather than nodding your head in agreement or surrendering with "Okay." You can experiment with being silent for a few seconds to level the power or you can ask questions that open up dialogue. These questions deepen conversation and often resemble, "Can you explain how you arrived at that solution?" and "How could I help you feel more comfortable with this request?"

More companies than you may realize are willing to make case by case determinations about money, roles, or career paths. In fact, there's less of a trend today requiring that all employees conform to one strict hierarchy or ladder. And yet, over the years I've observed many professionals skip negotiating altogether, seeing their work conditions or earnings like an item in a shop that has a non-negotiable, fixed price on it. But what might surprise you about the very best negotiators is that they don't need slick moves or mind tricks to get their needs met.

Instead, they see the world around them as open to revision and up for discussion and they tend to set their sights high. It's up to each of us to do the same; doing our homework before making the "ask" and building a compelling case that's hard to say "no" to. After all, we don't get what we don't ask for!

For more ideas on how to be a negotiating ninja, check out the tips in my new book, Pushback. Oh yeah, and the strategies work for men, too!