How do you negotiate for what you want? The answer to that question reveals a lot about your personality and work style.

Embedded within many families' lore, there is someone who is known as the master negotiator. In my family, it was my grandmother -- my dad's mom. She was famous in our family for a lot of things, but her penchant and skills for negotiating with anyone kind of sums up her personality -- confident, tenacious, competitive, goal-oriented, and frugal. Just hearing the stories is exhausting and makes me wonder why I didn't seem to inherit those traits.

For those of us who don't have my grandmother's temperament, negotiating can be a daunting task. I might know what I want but, at times, go into negotiations worrying about the other persons' feelings and anticipating how they'll respond. I even sometimes consider asking for less than I want because I'm afraid the other person might walk away- essentially saying, "nope, not worth it."

Yet, negotiations are an important part of business and life. At work, negotiating salaries is a common topic that often requires some back and forth. However, there are many others including product delivery deadlines, time off, a key role on an upcoming project, sales targets, and so on.

Most advice on improving your negotiating skills seems to assume you have certain personality traits. Negotiating comes easily to confident people who know what they want and aren't overly concerned about other people's perceptions. But what if you're not those things? What if you don't always feel confident, are flexible in the outcome you want, and are very much concerned about what other people think? It's not particularly helpful to say to someone like that to "just don't be those things." And yet, that is frequently what common business advice boils down to.

If you're not always confident, can you still negotiate for better prices, hours, and terms? Absolutely. You can still be you and get more of what you want.

Here's how.

  1. Play to your strengths. Perhaps you're good at building rapport and relationships. In that case, getting to know the person or organization you're negotiating with is a great place to start. You also might be creative and see a wider range of paths to the same end.
  2. Know what you're willing to compromise on -- and what you're not. Only pick rigid positions on elements of the deal that are truly non-negotiable. If you must work from home, state that clearly and upfront. If you don't really care where you're physically located, then don't worry about negotiating on that item.
  3. Similarly, make the negotiation about the smallest contentious element. If you're negotiating a job offer and you want a higher initial salary, don't make the argument about the entire position -- that will just make things more tense for both parties. You can be clear that you like the job and the benefits, but want more money. This helps focus the interaction and avoids wasting time going back and forth about items on which you already agree.
  4. Ask questions. The better you know the other party, the better you'll be able to tune into what they want from you and what they're willing to give. You get there by asking open-ended questions such as, "what led you to that position? Why is that the policy? What business goals are the biggest priority and how does this deal support those?"
  5. Take a break if things get heated. In the excitement of the back and forth, the pace of negotiations tends to quicken. Emails, texts, and phone calls can fly back and forth and create a sense of urgency. But rarely are the conditions of a deal so urgent that they can't wait two hours. This relatively small time frame can buy you the needed time to think and sort out your priorities. Take it -- especially if tensions are rising.
  6. And, of course, think win-win. This is point on which the nicest, most conciliatory and successful business people come back to time and again. The best negotiated deal is when both sides walk away with something they want. This is possible in almost every negotiation if you're able to talk through the details and truly understand each other's position.

You don't have to be bold, brash, and overly confident to negotiate what you want and need in your career. However, just because you're thoughtful, kind, and considerate doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't negotiate for a better deal. Successfully negotiating is an integral part of life and business. Advocating for what you want doesn't have to be a dreaded interaction. You can absolutely do it your way, be successful, and feel great about it in the end.