The Beginner’s Guide to Negotiating Without the Scare Factor

Picture this: rooftop happy hour with your group of friends. The light is golden–perfect for your Snapchat story. You’re sipping on a glass of rosé in celebration of a major life milestone (e.g. new job, promotion, new house, new car).

Your friends are a curious bunch. They want the details.

What was the process like? What did you say? What did they say? Did the car salesman try to strong-arm you into closing a deal? Was the offer process for the house incredibly competitive?

Your most enterprising friend looks up from the menu, where she’s been debating between ordering the oysters or tartare. You know the one–she’s always dressed to a T. Every time you talk to her, she seems to be booking a vacation to a remote tropical island, getting promoted, or learning Mandarin–for the sheer love of learning.

She has the quietest voice out of all your friends, but every head turns in her direction. She asks, “Did you negotiate?”

At this point, dear reader, you have a choice.

You can tell everyone that you didn’t because it would have made things awkward and you were afraid of offending the other person. Or you can regale your A-player friend with the story of how you followed the five steps below to achieve the outcome you wanted.

If you’ve never negotiated before or are simply looking to improve your skills, use these five tips to take the scare factor out of the process:

1. Change Your Mindset

The single biggest hurdle you will face in your negotiations? Not getting started at all.

People tend to avoid negotiating for one reason: fear. They’re afraid of being rude, offending the other person, causing an adversarial or stressful situation, or losing the deal altogether.

To change your mindset, watch the video below from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business on negotiation. The single biggest takeaway? Negotiation is not adversarial, it’s problem-solving. If you approach every negotiation with an open mind and have confidence that you can partner with the other person to achieve a good deal, then you can overcome this mental hurdle. A good negotiator perfectly blends being courteous, matter-of-fact, and firm.

2. Do Your Homework

Prepare thoroughly to justify everything you’re asking for, especially when you’re speaking to a more experienced negotiator. Let’s take a few easy examples:

If you receive a job offer (congratulations!), you need to be well-versed in the industry range for your title and relevant experience. This way, you can negotiate your compensation based upon the job you’re being asked to perform. This type of information can easily be found on websites like Glassdoor or Payscale. It’s also imperative that you fully understand everything you are being offered: stock options, vacation time, and compensation package. If you don’t know your RSUs from your RSAs, study up.

If you’re buying a house, car, or other major purchase, curiosity will help uncover potentially advantageous information. When I bought my first car, two minutes of pleasant small talk revealed that the seller was permanently moving out of the US–in a week. This gave me enormous leverage because time was not on her side and she was willing to come down on the price. The same is true for home buying: people moving out-of-state or out-of-country typically prefer to move quickly.

3. Negotiate at the Right Time

When possible, negotiate over email. But whether you negotiate in person or over email, don’t underestimate the power of silence.

My husband and I are proud parents of an adorable golden retriever–and she is a master negotiator. When I put food in her bowl, she doesn’t dive into it like 99.9% of golden retrievers on the planet. She doesn’t even look at it. She stands there and stares at me with an imperious gaze until I sweeten the deal by adding Parmesan cheese or bacon to her meal.

Golden Retriever

Chloe is always displeased with my first offer

Is the above story a bit absurd? Definitely–but it is also a lighthearted way to illustrate the power of silence in a negotiation.

Let’s take a human-centered example: my husband and I purchased a car a few years ago. We showed up for a test drive, established positive rapport, and took notes on the pros and cons of the car. We went home to think the purchase over and began to negotiate over email to move the sale forward.

At one point, we entered into gridlock with the seller, where he was no longer willing to come down on the price. We decided not to respond for two days and explore other options. Within a day, the seller responded to our email and brought the car’s price down to a number we were happy with.

Although we didn’t mean to exercise the power of silence and were genuinely going to walk away, we learned an important lesson that day. By negotiating over email, we were able to be concise, logical, and unemotional. When the other party responded, we were able to take the time to digest and think our response through, without pressure to respond in a face to face situation. And, if your negotiation spans weeks or months, having everything in writing helps both sides stay on the same page, with no room for forgetting important points.

4. Do It in One Batch

It’s important to ask for everything at once, not piece by piece. Asking for things piece by piece drags out the negotiation unnecessarily and can be a nuisance. Remember, mutual respect is vital in a successful negotiation.

In your list of asks, some will be more important than others. For example, my husband and I asked to have the car detailed before they turned it over to us. But we also asked for several other things related to the actual safety and functionality of the car, and were willing to handle its appearance ourselves. However, it served as a buffer that we were willing to discard in favor of our other requests.

Negotiating is like problem-solving, and you need to problem solve using your influence, not your force. Be positive, grateful for the opportunity to engage in conversation, and stick to the facts. Avoid “I feel,” “I deserve,” and other such emotional phrases.

If the other side comes back and you’re happy with their counter offer, then accept it! You’re trying to have a mature, productive conversation and achieve a good deal, not negotiate for negotiating’s sake. Graciously thank the other party for the conversation and move on.

5. Practice in Low-Risk Situations

You’ve changed your mindset, done your homework, and are now ready to negotiate. Now what? If you look for it, you have ample opportunities to negotiate in your everyday life.

Ask for discounts everywhere you shop–just because. When I shop online, I’ll often chat or call customer service and ask for a coupon code. I get one about 50% of the time. In addition, many brick-and-mortar businesses will price match from online retailers. Home purchases like appliances, furniture, and mattresses are also prime time to negotiate. These retailers need your business and are keenly aware of their competition attempting to undersell them. Exercise that power.

Vintage/thrift stores and farmer’s markets are other places to exercise your negotiation skills. They typically reward bulk purchases with appealing deals. Take the time to make a connection with the proprietors before you negotiate, and they will take care of you.

Ready to keep going? Try calling your credit card company and asking for a lower APR. (Do this even if you pay your card off in full–the exercise is the important part.) You can also do this with your cable bill and in some cases, your gym. The point? Practice your negotiation skills often, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a master.

What are some negotiation tips and tricks you’ve tried, and what were your results? I’d love to learn from you–leave a note below!