Negotiations are present everywhere in life. You'll negotiate little things, like who takes the trash out, and big things, like how much money you'll be making at a new company. Getting the most out of life depends, at least partially, on your ability to negotiate.
There are tons of articles already in circulation about how to be a better negotiator, but there's a common fault point I've found with most of them. They all contain information on what you should do leading up to the negotiation, such as doing background research, and best practices on what you should do in the middle of a negotiation, such as maintaining good posture and starting higher than your actual goal. These are phenomenal pieces of advice, but they can only help you in the context of one negotiation. How can you make yourself a better negotiator in general?
Like anything else, the solution is with practice, and you need practical exercises if you want to condition yourself to be a better negotiator, in any area of life. These five exercises are ones I've found to be extraordinarily rewarding in this regard:
- Practice saying no. Saying "no" is tougher than it sounds. When your boss asks you to take on an assignment that's out of your comfort zone, or when your friend needs help moving, you comply out of a sense of responsibility, or out of fear of how you'll look giving a rejection. We even do this in everyday society, such as when a person asks to cut us in line at the supermarket. In negotiation, if you want to leverage your position at all, you'll necessarily reject an offer that's already on the table, even if it's only implicitly. Accordingly, you have to practice saying "no" to become more comfortable with this process. This doesn't mean you should start saying "no" to everything, but it's far easier if you start becoming comfortable with lower-stakes situations (like the ones I mentioned above) than if you try to hold your ground in a high-stakes situation like a job interview.
- Learn body language cues. The percentage of communication that's nonverbal will vary depending on who you ask, but there's no question that body language is a major variable when it comes to interpersonal communication. Subtle cues, like the excessive blinking of the eyes or an uncomfortable shift in a chair, can give you major insight into what's going on in the other person's mind--but you need to be attuned to this body language. The only way to do that is through study and practice, observing the body language of people you already know, and strangers when you get the chance (since it's harder to notice in strangers).
- Listen to other people. Listening is the biggest and most important part of communication; it's what allows you to understand what's going on in the other person's head. Moreover, saying less and listening more puts you in a position of power during a negotiation--it means the other person is giving you more information than you're giving them. Add in the fact that quiet people are seen as better, more respectful communicators, and it's clear that being a better active listener will make you a better all-around negotiator. But like all the other skills on this list, it takes practice to perfect. Start out with your friends and family, listening more intently and speaking less often, until it becomes a natural element of your conversational rhythm. From there, it will be easy to integrate in your higher-profile negotiation scenarios.
- Conduct better research. Before you walk into any negotiation, whether it's over the price of an antique at a flea market or the price of a startup acquisition, you need to have done your research--thoroughly. But how do you know you've done all your due research, or that you've gone about it in the best possible way? If you're only researching occasionally, it's unlikely that this is the case. You need to take it upon yourself to "practice" researching by learning best practices for search, gathering a handful of key reliable sources for your information, and learning what questions to ask to get to deeper, more detailed pockets of information. Researching is a skill, and it can be refined.
- Negotiate everything. Finally, we have what may be the most obvious entry on this list. If you want to be a better negotiator, you have to negotiate. The more you do it, the more comfortable you're going to be, which will lead to more natural confidence and better overall results. You'll become a better speaker, a better listener, and you'll learn the rhythm of negotiation better as well. The key here is to start with small situations and scale your way up to bigger and more important ones. Start negotiating small responsibilities with friends and family members, and then work toward innocuous social situations, and then start commanding more authority in your workplace by negotiating your responsibilities and needs.
These five exercises, if repeated regularly and with a commitment to self-improvement, will help you become a better negotiator in all areas of your life. This isn't free reign to negotiate everything, nor should it develop a compulsion in you to strive for more than you deserve. Instead, use your new skills responsibly and remember that negotiation is a two-way street.