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Advice / Job Search / Job Offer

3 Counterintuitive Negotiation Tactics That Really Work

Negotiations come up frequently at work, from agreeing to a salary and job offer to everyday conversations about workload, responsibilities, and scheduling. Most of us think of “negotiation” as an uncomfortable process where we make demands, drive a hard bargain, and take as much as we can for ourselves. It’s us against them!

Yet in reality, most negotiations are not clearly divided. What’s more, your relationship with your negotiation “opponent” is part of the negotiation, too, and the conversation can even be an opportunity to make things better for everyone and strengthen an ongoing tie.

On that note, here are three counterintuitive—but research-backed—tactics to consider that will help you get what you need, while giving up the adversarial negotiation mentality.

1. Pretend You’re Asking for Someone Else

Imagine that you’re in charge of getting a job for your beloved sibling or friend. Would you negotiate? How hard would you bargain? You might assume that you’re the best advocate for yourself, but research from Columbia Business School shows that people—especially women—tend to do better when they negotiate for someone else.

Turns out, it's easier to keep pushing to get what you want when it’s more than just you at stake. A friend of mine, for example, had never negotiated her salary before, but she and her partner are planning a family, and it felt a lot easier for her to ask for a substantial raise when it was more than just her who would be impacted.

So, in preparing to negotiate, think about how what you're asking for will impact those around you: It’s not just for you, but also for your family and your future. It’s even for your employer! After all, if you are happier with your position and compensation, you're more likely to work hard and be successful.

2. Put Yourself in Their Shoes

When preparing for your negotiation, think of the situation from your opponent’s perspective. Research by Columbia psychologist Adam Galinsky shows that when we consider the other person’s thoughts and interests, we are more likely to find solutions that work well for both of us. If we think about negotiating as carving up a pie, thinking about other person’s interests helps to make the whole pie bigger.

For example, say you want to ask for a raise. Before you broach the subject with your boss, consider what challenges and hurdles he or she might be up against. Are there budget cuts throughout the organization? Is the team understaffed? If you can package your ask with, then, a way to save the department more money or take on additional tasks, you’re much more likely to come to an agreement.

One caveat, though: Galinsky warns us to understand how they think, not how they feel: Galinsky’s research shows that people who feel empathy when negotiating tend to end up with worse outcomes.

3. Ask for Advice

We hate to seem vulnerable and weak, especially during a negotiation, so admitting that you aren’t sure what the right solution is and asking for your opponent’s advice might seem like folly. Especially when you’re negotiating for a new job (and you’ve just interviewed and convinced your new boss that you know what you’re doing), you might worry that that you are undercutting yourself.

Yet, asking “what would you do if you were me?” gets the other person thinking from your perspective, and can be very flattering, garnering goodwill. More importantly, sharing what’s important to you and asking, “how can we make this work?” gets your negotiation partner to use his or her knowledge of how the organization works to help you out. He or she is likely to come up with solutions that you wouldn’t have been able to think of.

In his book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Adam Grant describes a woman who was negotiating a job in another state, yet she needed to finish her coursework in her current city. She wanted to take the job, but the cost of traveling back and forth was going to be too high. She asked the hiring manager for her advice, which turned the hiring manager into her advocate. The manager went to senior members of the company, and it turned out that there were empty seats on a company plane that flew the same route. She was offered the job—and a regular spot on the corporate jet to finish her class.

The next time you need to negotiate something—a job, raise, or whatever it is—give these three tactics a try. You can take advantage of the relationship you have with your negotiation partner in ways that can help you meet your goals—and make the negotiation more comfortable for you.