Good negotiating isn't a skill reserved just for CEOs and United Nations diplomats. It's useful for all of us, whether we're asking for a raise, interviewing for a job, buying a car, deciding on family vacations, even dealing with our kids over bedtime.
Most of us could be a whole lot better at it.
That's the message of Michael Colatrella, who teaches mediation and negotiation skills to lawyers and anybody else who wants to sharpen their techniques. He's an assistant professor at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif.
At $999, his three-day Advanced Negotiation seminars aren't for every budget, but we asked him to sit down last week and share a few tips. Here's an excerpt:
Q: Why do we need to be good negotiators?
A: Negotiation is a life skill. Everyone negotiates every day: with our spouses over housework, with our bosses and colleagues over job responsibilities.
Q: What's the essential skill in negotiating?
A: Setting a goal. Let's say you're buying a car. You go online, do your research, see what it's worth. You pick a number, say $24,000, and tell yourself, "If I don't go above that, I'll have a good deal." But all it really means is you haven't been taken. ...
Statistically speaking, you do better when you set optimistic but realistic goals. ... There's nothing more important than preparing in a systematic way. It makes it very difficult to be taken advantage of.
Q: How do you prepare for a negotiating session, say, asking for a raise?
A: It's important to have a number in mind. Know what your goals are: a $5,000 raise, the benefits or the vacation (weeks) you want. ... Have a picture of how you want the interview to end.
If you know what you're worth, it's to your advantage to make the opening offer. Ask for as high as you can credibly ask, based on your performance, your peers, the industry. For example, if you start at $7,000 a year and the boss had in mind offering you $2,000, then he will counter at something higher, say $3,000. When you negotiate higher, you can influence the middle.
Q: Is being tough ever appropriate? And how do you defuse a hothead in negotiations?
A: If you shout back, you'll incite them even more. ... It's just like when your kids have a tantrum. If you lose your cool, it sends them into an even greater meltdown.
The better approach is to calmly point out: "I don't appreciate being shouted at. ... I know this is important to you. But if we are going to make progress, as I think we can, you will need to speak to me more respectfully."
Q: Research and books contend that women don't negotiate for themselves as well as men. Is that true?
A: There is a gender gap. When women are negotiating for others, like at the negotiating table for their company, there's no difference in their outcomes than with men. They do well. But when it's negotiating for themselves -- household chores with a spouse, job responsibilities (at work) -- they often don't ask for as much as they deserve.
Q: Is personality important?
A: The most effective negotiators are not intimidating personalities but charming personalities. In negotiations, people feel better giving up things to people they like. (Bullies) lose more deals than they get.
Q: How effective is knowing when to walk away?
A: It's very important and one of the hardest skills to learn. In America, we're so impatient. We walk away too soon ... rather than persist and push through.
Q: In class, you talk about the need to know your personal negotiating style. Can you explain?
A: There are five negotiating styles: competing ("my way or the highway"); collaborating (seeking the "win-win"); compromising (expedient, but not always best deal); avoiding (sidestepping, postponing for the conflict-averse); accommodating (self-sacrificing, overly generous). None is inherently good or bad ... but it's whether you are using it in the right circumstances. ...
If you're not concerned about the relationship, say when negotiating with a (salesman) you'll never see again, you can be more competitive. But if it's with your spouse about where to go on vacation, (a competing style) may get what you want but the long-term relationship is damaged.
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