Life is a series of negotiations. While we may realize this in theory, we probably don’t realize how often it applies in practice. Your work schedule, your pay and benefits, prices in big box stores, cell phone contracts, day care arrangements—you name it, it’s negotiable, says Steven G. Blum. The notion that you just have to fall in line and accept the options you’re given is an extremely limiting one.
“This is a whole different way of looking at the world,” says Blum, author of Negotiating Your Investments: Use Proven Negotiation Methods to Enrich Your Financial Life, and a teacher at the Wharton School of Business. “We all know we can negotiate car or real estate prices, but the idea that everything is negotiable is foreign to most of us.
“Sharpen your negotiating skills and you’ll unlock options and opportunities that you may have assumed were closed to you,” he adds. “This can truly change your life.”
Before you can negotiate anything, you have to know how to start the dialogue and how to ask right the questions. Blum offers the following tips:
Know what you don’t want, what you do want, and what’s even better. One of the most important things a negotiator can do is figure out what she is trying to gain or achieve. When you know exactly what you want, you can be purposeful in keeping the process moving toward your goals and avoiding measures that might throw you off course.
“Don’t make agreements based on the idea of ‘winning’ if they don’t get you what you really want,” says Blum. “Don’t worry about whether the other side is getting too much—that does not matter as long as you reach all your goals. And once a good deal comes into view, see if you can improve it before you close the deal.”
Harness the power of BATNA. In negotiation, power comes from alternatives. You must identify your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). Doing so lays the foundation for increasing negotiating strength, which presents the potential for greater control, influence, and authority. You will never accept a deal unless it is better than your BATNA. It forms a minimum acceptable level for you.
Aim for higher than just win-win. As you begin to hone your negotiating skills, you might be tempted to seek out “win-win” solutions. Doing so might seem like a great way to keep your relationship with your negotiating partner positive, but the approach can actually backfire, causing you both to settle for the first plausible solution that improves everyone’s position.