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Make Your Words Count: 5 Tips on How to Negotiate at the Office
Whether you work from the comfort of your home office, or in a cubical 50 floors above the street, there’s one thing that you’ll never be able to avoid—negotiating.
There are some people that love the art of negotiation. Some even live for it. They thrive on the excitement, elevated blood pressure and adrenal rush that comes with the “search for agreement” that negotiations represent. I’m sure you’ve met these competitive types before: they almost always have the last word; they’re on the aggressive side of normal; they send back their salad because there weren’t enough croutons.
Then there are they rest of us. We avoid negotiation, not because we’re scared, but because it’s so awfully close to an argument…okay, maybe we’re just the slightest bit scared. Or, rather, lets call it “out of our comfort zone,” instead of scared—that’s much more civil.
Regardless of how it you makes feel, negotiating is a skill that every business person needs—from the CEO to the temp secretary. And when it comes to negotiating, it all about the words you choose and how you put them together. Literary types call that “diction.” We’re just gonna call it “owning it.”
Here are some words and phrases to avoid when it’s your turn at the table.
9 times out of 10, negotiations are about one of two things: money, or time, and there’s a good chance that you’ll be talking about both simultaneously at one point or another. Since both deal with what statisticians call “continuous variables,” meaning that they can go on forever, theoretically, you can discuss them in the same way. For example: let’s say you tell an employee or outside contractor that you need a job done “somewhere between 3 and 5 days from now.” Right from the start, you’re fighting against yourself by giving them two points to choose from, and showing them that you’re indecisive, which can be read as being a pushover. Not only that, but you’re almost always guaranteed to to end up waiting for the date furthest away, or if you’re talking money, paying the higher price.
Ready, Aim, Raise…
…but it’s important not to aim too high. When your negotiation is centered on money—a salary or raise, for example—I find that it’s best to shoot first, aim high, and ask questions later. I know, I’m using a lot of gun metaphors—forgive me. There’s a reason (for the shooting first, not really for the metaphors) that you want to beat them to the punch: whatever number is thrown out first is the number that both partied focus on —it becomes a kind of anchor for the negotiation, and the price/raise/what-have-you is generally closer to that anchor than not.
“The Buck Stops Here”
First of all, no-one says that anymore. That phrase, which is roughly equivalent to saying “I’m the boss,” not only sounds ridiculous when thrown into a negotiation, but it also leaves you backed into a corner. Depending on whom you are negotiating with, the information that you ultimately make the decisions can help them force you into answering a question or signing a deal when you aren’t quite ready to do so.
Keeping Calm (“Are We There Yet?”)
No matter what the negotiation is about, the party that comes out on top is usually the one who is the calmest. That means no looking at the clock, no complaining that “this is taking too long,” and please, take it easy to the bathroom breaks. You always want to seem like you have all the time in the world. Remember that the point of a negotiation is to get what you want out of the deal, not to end the negotiation as soon as possible.
Keeping Cool Reprise
Obviously, you should enter every negotiation with a cool head, and try to keep it cool throughout the proceedings. If you’ve seen any police procedural or lawyer drama, you’ll know that getting your counterpart’s blood hot is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get what you want. Don’t fall into the trap: you’re better than that.
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