There's no shortage of negotiation advice out there. Lots of it is excellent -- but lots of it is also vague. From blanket warnings like 'never get angry in a negotiation' to small but mighty tips like bring some donuts, a huge portion of negotiating wisdom is either only useful in certain situations or lacks specifics.
But the same can't be said of a recent HBR article from Deborah Kolb, co-director of a Harvard Law School program that teaches negotiation skills. The piece focuses specifically on informal negotiations at work -- those common but less written about moments when it's up to you to secure the credit or influence you deserve, or to get what you want from a reluctant supervisor or colleague.
"Negotiating on your own behalf can feel much less comfortable than negotiating as an agent for your company, especially when it happens outside the typical structure of a hiring or review process," warns Kolb, but she also insists these conversations "can drive career success and fulfillment and also have the potential to spark positive organizational change."
She goes on to offer general but valuable advice like 'gather good information' and 'anchor with options,' but the real goldmine in her piece might just be a side bar in which she tackles the most fundamental question of all -- what exactly do you say to get what you want?
"When negotiators don't want to give you what you're asking for, they often launch an offensive move. Don't get defensive," she instructs, "instead, turn the conversation to get it back on track." How? Kolb goes on to offer powerful phrases that can get you past five common negotiation roadblocks. Here's what you should say when your negotiating partner...
... challenges your ability.
If the person you're negotiating with says something like "I don't think you're ready," Kolb suggests you correct his or her impression by saying: "I understand why it might appear that way. But here's the experience I have that shows why I'm capable of managing it..."
...demeans your ideas as unreasonable.
If you hear, "That will never work," your next move should be to divert the focus of your negotiating partner to the solution. Try this phrase: "What would be a reasonable arrangement?"
...appeals for sympathy.
If the other party offers a sob story to explain why your request can't be met, saying something like "It's such a tough time for this group right now," Kolb advises you to dig deeper. Ask, "What really concerns you? What can I do to ease those concerns?"
... criticizes your approach
Don't let comments like "This is a really inappropriate request" block you from moving the conversation forward. Instead, ask for elaboration. The question "Can you help me understand why?" might help you accomplish that, according to Kolb.
... flatters you
It's nice to hear something like "You're so good in the position you have," but don't let flattery distract you from your aim. Kolb suggests you use role reversal and ask, "If you were in my shoes, what would you do?"
If none of these ideas are perfectly suited to your situation, Kolb offers one final countermove that can work in a variety of contexts -- silence. "Interrupt the conversation by sitting silent for a brief period, standing up, or moving to get a glass of water. Research shows that when you break the action, people rarely revert to the same negotiating stance, and the pause can lead to breakthroughs," she explains.
Now that you're armed with the words you need to get what you want, get out there and start advocating for yourself and your team, and let us know how effective you found Kolb's advice in the comments.