The 8 Negotiation Skills You Need—Whether You’re Job Searching or Not was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
Let’s say you’re conducting a job search and aiming for an annual salary of $100,000, but a company you’ve interviewed with offers you $87,000. You could grudgingly accept it, walk away, or try to negotiate.
You decide to negotiate and tell the hiring manager you’re looking for $100,000 to start, but the hiring manager clearly states that’s out of reach based on their pay range. Again, you could grudgingly accept it, walk away, or continue to negotiate.
You decide to continue to negotiate but instead of repeating your original request, you change your tactic and ask the hiring manager if they could go up to $95,000 plus give you an extra week of vacation. This time the hiring manager comes back with a yes. While the salary isn’t exactly what you’d hoped for, you’ve still successfully put more money in your pocket—just in a different way.
Strong negotiation skills are critical to your success—not just during a job search but also on the job. And there are actually several different skills you need to draw on to negotiate successfully. With practice you can strengthen them—and make them work for you.
People are often intimidated by negotiation and wrongly believe that negotiating is akin to being confrontational. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather than going into a negotiation determined to win, it’s important to focus on finding a resolution that benefits both sides. That’s truly what negotiation is.
“When you go into a negotiation saying, ‘This is my hard line,’ then you aren’t negotiating, you’re just demanding,” says business and career coach Jackie Ghedine, cofounder of The Modern GenX Woman, who’s coached hundreds of women and some men on how to increase their success and wealth.
Persuasive negotiation skills can help you accomplish your goals and get your work done in an environment where people inevitably have different ideas, opinions, and priorities. These skills can help you build better relationships with your boss and coworkers, avoid conflicts, and lead you and your teams to better solutions.
And they come in handy not only when you’re discussing compensation for a new job, but also in a variety of other situations: when you’re asking your boss if you can work from home several days a week, when you’re building your case for a new title or promotion, if you’re asking your manager or leadership team for the budget and green light to hire an additional employee to work on your team, or if you’re working on a project across teams or departments and navigating various interests and priorities.
In any of these scenarios, rather than focusing on whether you’ll “win” the negotiation, you should focus on building a case that makes it easier for someone to say yes because the outcome also benefits them and others, not just you, Ghedine says. So let’s say you want to continue to work from home sometimes. You could explain to your boss that while the team will need to adjust to you being away from the office three days a week, that arrangement would give the team the flexibility it needs to deal with clients in other time zones because you could start work earlier in the morning than if you had to commute into the office.
Keep in mind that a negotiation is a conversation, not a monologue, says executive coach Anne Shoemaker, who’s worked with hundreds of women on how to negotiate career changes and higher salaries. It also doesn’t have to be resolved in one conversation. “It might be an issue you want resolution on but your boss or colleague needs time to think about it,” she says. That means you might have to leave it be and then come back to the conversation a few weeks later.
For some roles, such as sales or account management, negotiation is particularly fundamental to the job function. Think about how an ad salesperson might propose an advertising schedule and budget, talk through how that particular plan would help the client achieve their organization’s specific advertising goals, give the client some time to think the plan over, and discuss ways to tweak it before finalizing the deal.
However, no matter your role, developing strong negotiation skills will benefit you as well as your manager, colleagues, and organization in the long term by helping you to find better solutions and take action to achieve individual and collective goals.
Here are eight skills to use the next time you and your boss, colleague, or client are trying to come to a mutual resolution on an issue.
1. Active Listening
When you’re negotiating, be mindful that you’re actually paying attention. Often when we’re nervous or focused on our own agenda, we may not fully hear what the other person is saying, Ghedine says. To really listen, you might take a moment to pause after the other person speaks, for example, and essentially repeat back what you just heard, asking if you’ve captured it accurately. “This will allow your brain to catch up with what is being said, and give you time to process,” Ghedine says.
To get to a solution that pleases everyone, you have to be able to see the issue from many different perspectives, not just your own, and brainstorm and evaluate potential paths forward even if they’re not clear-cut. “If you can figure out where your interests align, you can find a solution that will benefit everyone,” Shoemaker says.
For instance, if your boss says they can’t give you a 5% raise this year because everyone’s raises are capped at 3%, think about another creative way to achieve your goal that would benefit your manager. Perhaps you can ask them to create a year-end bonus that’s linked to you reaching specific goals or metrics that are important to the success of your department. Or maybe this is a good opportunity to begin a conversation about a promotion or title change to reflect the additional responsibilities you’ve taken on (the same ones you used to support your case for a larger raise), which could bump up your pay even higher even if it takes longer.
3. Ability to Read Body Language
While you’re negotiating, it’s essential that you pay attention to changes in other people’s body language because it will give you valuable clues about what they’re thinking or feeling. If they start to frown, wrinkle their brow, or cross their arms, that could be a sign that they disagree.
Be careful to keep your own body language and facial expressions neutral as well, leaving your hands at your sides, maintaining eye contact, and smiling. If you’re meeting in person, try to sit on the same side of the conference table to show you’re aligned, and if you’re meeting virtually make sure you both have your cameras turned on to allow you to read each others’ body language as much as possible, Shoemaker says.
To receive a raise or promotion or achieve any other aim you might have in a negotiation, you’ll need to identify a compelling reason and convey it in a way that resonates with your audience. Paint a picture and show them why they should say yes to your proposal—and be sure to equip yourself with evidence.
For instance, if you’re negotiating for promotion based on your creative storytelling skills, you need to persuade your manager that your skills are essential to your department’s success. For instance, saying, “My skills as a digital storyteller have helped this company grow its customer base by 20%. Remember the incredible engagement we got when the ‘Raise Your Paw’ pet food campaign went viral? That project alone blew past our projections for customer shares by 53% and caused a 15% spike in sales for the month,” is much more persuasive than saying, “I’m a talented storyteller.”
5. Emotional Intelligence
Negotiation requires self-awareness, empathy, and the ability to manage your own emotions and recognize the emotions of others. Say your manager is fidgeting more than usual in your meeting and seems a bit flustered or distracted. That’s a signal that this may not be the best moment to bring up a non-urgent request you’ve been planning to make and you’d be better off waiting a few days.
Emotional intelligence also means not crying or yelling when you don’t get what you want, Shoemaker says. A good negotiator can stay positive and constructive even when they’re unhappy with the outcome.
6. Ability to Communicate Succinctly
Most people share too much information during negotiations, especially if they get nervous or haven’t thought through the case they want to make, Ghedine says. When someone asks you a question, stay focused on answering it rather than providing extra commentary, she says.
For instance, if you’re making the case to your manager that you should be able to work a four-day week, stick to the facts. Explain that you’ll work 10 hours a day, four days a week, and you’ll make sure that any deadlines from that week will be met before you clock out on Thursday. Refrain from discussing why you need Friday off or how it will benefit your family. It’s also a good idea to emphasize the point you want your boss to remember—that you’ll hit all your deadlines on or ahead of schedule. Ghedine recommends ending your pitch with your most important point and taking a short pause before and after the statement.
Don’t forget to show your human side and ask for help when you’re struggling or for more information when you don’t know the answer. It helps you stay calm and fosters empathy in others, says career coach Jennifer Tardy, who’s helped hundreds of job seekers negotiate higher salaries.
For instance, if your boss drops a new project on your desk when you’re already struggling to finish your work, it’s best to be honest that you can’t complete everything on your to-do list. You could negotiate the added workload by saying, “I’m a bit overwhelmed right now. I’m already working on five high-priority projects. If you want me to pick up this new priority, I need to let something else go.”
Throughout your career you’ll need to advocate for things that are important to you, whether it’s a particular approach to a cross-departmental project or time off to be a caregiver. Self-advocacy might also mean standing up to a colleague who treats you unfairly or a boss who never seems to put you up for the projects you think will advance your career. It’s about having the self-awareness to understand what you need and want and building up the confidence to articulate it to other people—in other words, exactly what you need to do in many negotiations.
You may be thinking that this all sounds great in theory, but you’re simply not a natural negotiator. The good news is research shows that training and experience improve performance significantly—and that even just believing negotiation skills can be learned goes far to boost performance.
“The only way to perfect these skills is by practicing, much like building muscle through repetitive exercise,” Tardy says. The more you practice, the better they’ll get and the more confident you’ll feel using them.
Here are six ways to build your negotiation muscle:
- Role-play with friends: Find a cohort of trusted friends and practice different scenarios—like asking your boss for a raise or building a case to hire another staff member. Have your friend ask you challenging questions such as, “How will the company pay for the new staff member’s salary?” Rehearse explaining how the new staff member will help the team find new customers and bring in new revenue that will offset their salary costs. “If you can’t say these things to a friend, you definitely won’t be able to say them to your manager,” Ghedine says.
- Look for ways to practice in your daily life. There are plenty of opportunities to practice negotiation skills in everyday life, not just at work, Shoemaker says. For instance, if you’re traveling and your hotel room ends up being next to the ice maker, you can either call the front desk and yell at them or you can use your negotiation skills and ask what other rooms are available for the same price. “The objective is to get what you want (a quiet room) while allowing the other party to get what they need (a fee for the room),” she says.
- Practice self-advocacy with your friends or family: Being your own advocate can be hard, so Tardy suggests trying it out with your spouse or a friend before you bring it to the workplace. For instance, let’s say your friend wants to have sushi for dinner and then see a movie but you really want to eat pizza and you’re too tired for a movie. Rather than just going along to get along, Tardy suggests you speak up and explain that you had sushi last night and you have hankering for pizza, and it’s been a long week so you just want to go home after dinner. “The more you [self-advocate] in places where it feels safe, you will build that muscle to bring it to places where it feels riskier,” Tardy says.
- Get a coach or mentor: If you’ve noticed that a colleague or manager you work with (or used to work with) is an excellent negotiator, you could ask them to help you build your skills by walking you through how they approach negotiations, giving you tips, or even letting you sit in on a meeting, if it’s appropriate. You could also look for a coach who specializes in negotiation skills, which might be particularly helpful if you’re currently searching for a new job and hoping to make a salary jump or if you’re negotiating a raise or promotion at work. (Don’t know where to start? You can find dozens of career coaches on The Muse!)
- Write down your key negotiating points: It’s not uncommon to get nervous while negotiating, so Ghedine suggests bringing a list of your key points to reference if you get flustered. “Outline the most important points you want to articulate and have them written out succinctly,” she says.
- Be aware of when you miss an opportunity to use one of these skills: Notice when you miss an opportunity to be vulnerable or to be your own advocate, and think about how this skill might have benefited you, Tardy says. Also pay attention to when your colleagues or friends have overlooked a chance to do the same. Think through what you or your colleague could have done instead and how that might have led to a different outcome.
Negotiating for what you want isn’t as tricky as it sounds. With practice, you can develop robust negotiating skills that will ultimately benefit you and the folks you’re working with.