Negotiation Skill #1: Ask for What you Want!

Go get a gym membership for less than the advertised price. You have the power. Tell them you’re shopping around for the best price; tell them you want the initial fee or membership fee waived or the monthly fee reduced. Say no to the first offer. Everyone in that gym pays a different price; there is no reason why yours should be the highest. We can negotiate everything from car prices to cosmetic surgery. The biggest barrier for most people – the reason why they won’t dicker with the gym, the salesman, or the boss – is that they don’t know how to ask for what they want. If you can get over that barrier, you can discover an important source of negotiating power.

Prepare to Ask

Most of us hate to ask for what we want because we want to be perceived as nice people; negotiating doesn’t make you “mean,” it makes you savvy, and you can certainly do it in a way that is responsible and respectful.

  • Research. It is essential that you have a realistic base for your negotiations. If you are purchasing a house, for instance, you look at prices of comparable homes in the area. You look at the defects of the house itself. You think about what a realistic offer would be. The goal is not to ask for a free house; it is to secure a better position for yourself by knowing what is reasonable. Sometimes what is reasonable may not be exactly the same as what you want, but at least you will not be short changing yourself. You can always start with just what you want but you may offend the other person and/or it may be difficult to back down from an “unreasonable” starting position without looking somewhat foolish. Some negotiating contexts have this sort of unreasonable starting offer built-in – like when negotiating with a vendor in some tourist trap while on vacation . Ask yourself if the situation you are confronting is one of those.

It is the same for salary negotiations; if you are asking for more money, know how much you are worth. Know how much professionals in your area are paid; factor in your experience and worth to the company. Think about what the company can realistically offer you.

The most important part of asking for what you want is knowing what you want and making sure it is reasonable. This is a cornerstone of principled negotiation. Of course if you find yourself negotiating with a counterpart who is not reasonable, perhaps you should walk. It is time to consider you BATNA.

  • Prepare. Think about your top and bottom lines (this will depend on which side of the table you’re sitting on, of course). For instance, set a cap reflecting the lowest salary you could comfortably accept; meanwhile, the employer will be thinking about the ceiling, or the highest salary they can comfortably offer.

Also keep in mind that money or price is not the only thing that you can negotiate. For instance, if a job offers a lower salary, can you ask for more benefits (e.g., more vacation time, flexible scheduling, a four-day week, etc.) to make up for that?

  • Practice. Negotiating can be intimidating, especially if the other party has more experience. Plan out what you want to say and then practice with a friend or in front of a mirror. This can help you avoid surprises and have a bit of a script ready when the other side responds.

Start with your explanation: “This house needs a roof, it is not well-insulated, and the house down the road is for sale for much less. I’m going to have to put in a new water heater, and the crab grass is just insane.” Then, after you’ve laid out your reasoning, you can introduce an offer. This puts you in a much more advantageous position regarding negotiation. If you start with, “I want to pay $50,000 less than list”, it is much easier for the owner to simply say, “No.” This is why positional bargaining leaves too much potential for a mutually beneficial agreement untapped.

Go ahead; try. Asking for what you want is difficult at first, but there is a real feeling of accomplishment that goes along with it – especially when you get it!

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