Four Tips to Negotiate Like a Pro, with Jeff Weiss

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At some point in your career you’ll need to negotiate. Maybe it’ll be for the salary you deserve. Or for better benefits. Or for some extra time off for a special vacation. Whatever your ask, you’ll probably need to negotiate like a pro to get what you want.

When people think about negotiation, they tend to imagine a haggling session, where each side makes demands—one high and one low—and they eventually meet somewhere in the middle. According to Jeff Weiss, author of Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Negotiating, this kind of linear, zero-sum thinking limits your opportunity to find creative, win-win solutions.

In this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Jeff shares four strategies to improve your negotiation skills and get better outcomes. His tips include:

  1. Know your “why’s.” Understand the underlying reason you’re asking for more time, money or benefits. This can open up more opportunities for a mutually beneficial solution with your employer.
  2. Don’t fall into stereotypical thinking.  Don’t fall for the zero-sum-game approach to negotiation. Both sides can “win.”
  3. Avoid emotionally driven ultimatums. Negotiation is stressful and people sometimes say things they don’t mean. Steer clear of manipulative language and subjective standards.
  4. Take the lead. Be proactive in your negotiation. Don’t wait for the other side to act first.

You can find more useful job search insight in our new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere, now available on Amazon.


Mac Prichard: 

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want and make a difference in life.

I’m Mac Prichard, founder and publisher of Mac’s List. On today’s bonus episode, we’re sharing exclusive content from Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. It’s our new book that was published February 1, 2017. For 15 years at Mac’s List, we’ve helped people find meaningful, well-paying work in Portland, Oregon, one of the country’s most competitive job markets.

Now, we put all of our best job hunting advice in one new book that can help you no matter where you live. Land Your Dream Job Anywhere also includes advice from many of the national career experts who have appeared on our podcast. Today, we’re sharing one of these features exclusively with you, our podcast listeners.

Here is Jeff Weiss, president of Lesley University and author of The Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Negotiating, reading his contribution, “Four Tips on How to Negotiate Like a Pro.”

Jeff Weiss: 

I’m Jeff Weiss, president of Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and author of Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Negotiating. This is a chapter entitled “Four Tips on How to Negotiate Like a Pro.”

First, know your “why’s.”

People often think of negotiations in terms of their wants: they want more money, or more vacation time, or a new job title. Being clear on your wants is important. But even more important is knowing why you want these things. For example, do you want more money to make a down payment on a house? Or to pay off student loans? Or to invest in your retirement fund? It’s the “why’s” that you want to satisfy in negotiation and the “why’s” that give you more creativity and flexibility in negotiation.

Employers have “why’s” on their side as well. There are reasons why they need to protect some things and achieve other things, and why they therefore might be more flexible in one area of compensation and less flexible in others. Figure out the interests on both sides of the table and you’ll find fruitful areas for negotiation.

Second, don’t fall into stereotypical thinking.

Often, we think about negotiation as a haggle, where each side makes demands—one high and one low—and they eventually meet somewhere in the middle. “I’m going to ask for an X% raise, they’re going to offer a Y% raise, and we’re going to compromise on a Z% raise.” That kind of linear, zero-sum thinking limits your opportunity to find creative solutions that work for both parties.

Again, we get back to “why.” Perhaps your employer can’t give you the paycheck you’re asking for, but can address your underlying need for money. For example, let’s say you are looking for more money for tuition to go back to school at night.

Your employer may be willing to directly cover your tuition, provide you with a low-interest loan, or put you on an assignment and with a mentor who might be able to help you develop the desired knowledge or skills. The trick is to share your interests and then get creative.

Instead of haggling, aim to engage in joint problem-solving. Start with brainstorming (“How might we get this done?”). Try to develop many possible solutions, or what are often called “options,” together. Invent first, evaluate later. In the end, you may find that where you end up actually provides you with more value—and meets your interests even better—than what you originally had in your head as your opening request.

Third, avoid emotionally driven ultimatums.

People can get reactive during a negotiation. Your manager might say, “This is the most I can do,” or, “If you don’t like it, you can look somewhere else,” or “We’ve never done that before.” These kinds of comments aren’t always meant to be tactics or dirty tricks, but they can often feel that way. Don’t react in kind.

Instead, take a step back, think about what the person is saying, and respond with good questions. For example, if your manager says, “We’ve never done it that way before” or “we’ve never paid that much,” you might constructively respond, “Is that so? Has no one here ever gotten a raise/been paid this much? Truly no one?” Don’t let them off the hook, but wait for a response.

If there have been exceptions, ask, “What have those exceptions been? What were the reasons for those exceptions?” Ask questions that explore both parties’ interests, but that, as much as possible, get at objective standards. Press for past practices, precedents, objective criteria, relevant data, and fair processes. If you want to change the game, one very effective way to do so is to move the conversation from what one should do (that is subjective) to what one ought to do (based on something objective).

Fourth, take the lead.

More than half of people in a negotiation wait for the other party to go first, and shape their approach to what their counterpart does. Don’t make this your default. By starting the discussion, you have the opportunity to frame the discussion in a positive, constructive way. Rather than throwing out competing numbers in an emotionally charged haggle session, you can have a constructive conversation around interests, options, and objective standards. Leading the conversation in this direction benefits you, not only in terms of outcome, but also in demonstrating to your employer that you are a skilled negotiator and problem-solver.