Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.
Perhaps you're afraid you'll seem cheap or greedy if you don't accept someone's first offer.
But maybe you just haven't had enough practice negotiating yet.
Unlike many parts of the world, most transactions in the United States occur in formalized markets with fixed public prices, aside from buying a car or high-stakes business negotiations. This means Americans don't have as much practice negotiating as compared to the average citizen of Vietnam, Turkey or Egypt, where markets are more informal and haggling is quite common.
But just because you didn't grow up haggling all the time doesn't mean that you can't become an expert negotiator.
As a developmental economist in Asia and the Middle East, I constantly observed and participated in informal markets. I got plenty of practice negotiating with vendors, but I also had to build close rapport with them to understand their supply chain and margins. I saw how they successfully sold products at three or sometimes even ten times (or more) their intended price, as well as mistakes that cost them deals.
Because of this experience, friends and family regularly ask me for negotiation advice. The following tips are the same exact methodology I share with them to get the best deals and terms on important business decisions.
It's helped them get countless free perks--ranging from software to flights--as well as major savings on everything from furniture to real estate. Salespeople have used it to increase their deal size and close rate, and it's allowed entrepreneurs to close their investor funding and improve their valuations.
If you use this advice correctly, not only will you become a win more often, but you might just find you can get so much more in life just by asking.
1. Make shamelessness your superpower
I won't even get started with all the ways shame can hold you back from being successful in business and life. In order to be an effective negotiator, you need to get past worried about seeming impolite or cheap.
While you may not always win or get exactly what you were hoping for, you won't know what's possible until you try. You'd be surprised with how often you can get exactly what you want--with almost no pushback--just by asking. Other times, the other party will meet you somewhere in between, but that's still usually better than if you hadn't asked at all.
Likewise, don't be afraid to walk away if the deal isn't what you want; this kind of shamelessness is one of the strongest negotiation tactics.
2. Find opportunities for practice
I don't love the old saying "practice makes perfect," because I think perfection can actually sabotage you from making major progress on your goals, but repeating anything can help you improve. Just doing something over and over isn't necessarily enough--you need to reflect on what went poorly and could be improved next time as much as what you did well.
A great way to get comfortable with negotiation is to test your chops in low-stakes scenarios. I'm a big fan of going to open markets, bazaars, and estate sales for this exact reason, but whenever you're buying or selling something there's an opportunity to negotiate. This kind of hands-on experience will not only help you rapidly learn and improve, but having a few wins under your belt can also help you boost your confidence as a negotiator.
3. Visualize your ideal outcome
Why do you want to win? What do you want to win?
I like to think very carefully about my desired result before I begin negotiating. You don't need to let your "opponent" know what you actually want; in fact it's much better if they don't. But you should know exactly what you want, don't want, and what things you're willing to concede.
Imagining what you want will also help incentivize you to "play to win," and can make you more confident and focused.
4. Have deep empathy
Many people falsely believe great negotiators are greedy and aggressive, but the best negotiators actually have incredible empathy.
Game theory isn't just about understanding what you want, but also what motivates the other "players of the game." What do they desire most? What will they try to avoid at all costs?
The more you can figure out their incentives and priorities, the easier it will be to get what you want.
Like Zig Ziglar says, "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want."
5. Realize the positive
When giving friends and family advice on negotiation, I often hear excuses about them "not wanting to take advantage" or how they feel like that's "wrong." This same thinking is also why many people would never do sales.
I understand their concerns, but after selling millions of dollars of enterprise software and service and training and consulting salespeople for years, I have to disagree.
Great salespeople aren't bad people. They don't sell snake oil and won't try to sell ice to eskimos. No, instead they get jobs at companies that actually add tremendous value to their customers (and if they find out companies aren't keeping their promises, they'll usually leave pretty quickly).
So what I tell anyone new to sales and negotiation is to think about "how you're actually doing a favor."
As a customer buying a product from a vendor, you're doing them a favor by giving them your business. There are plenty of ways customers can go above and beyond to provide value to a business just beyond giving money--it could be sharing their product to your own audience, other methods of referring new business, giving them feedback to improve their offering, and so forth.
When you're trying to sell something--whether it's a product, a service, or yourself as a freelancer or consultant--just remind yourself of the benefits or advantages you're offering your customers. Not only will that help you improve your sales pitch, but it will also help you ease any guilt or discomfort you have.
And if you're an employee trying to get a raise, just remind yourself of all the value you provide your boss and company on a regular basis.
Do you have questions about negotiating or experiences you'd like to share? Let me know, and I might just include your thoughts and comments in a future article.