Negotiating can be uncomfortable: standing up for yourself, asking for what you want, and trying to get a better price, terms, and condition often feels confrontational—and most of us avoid confrontation.
"You have to go out and learn to negotiate—it’s not a natural skill," says Eldonna Lewis-Fernandez, author of Think Like a Negotiator. "It’s like playing baseball; you have to do it to get good at it."
Lewis-Fernandez has a lot of experience; she negotiated contracts for the government for 23 years. While she honed her skills on the job, she says anyone can become a good negotiator, at work or in life. The way to get comfortable with the process is to have the right mindset.
"There’s usually fear in beginning," she says. "There’s no way to eliminate the fear, no switch to flip that makes you an immediate expert. You have to take the time and work through it. The power is in the work."
The best place to practice negotiating skills is at a yard sale where the stakes are low, says Lewis-Fernandez. "It’s a great place for training," she says. "Nobody expects to get what they ask for things; they expect negotiation. Drill your skills by turning a purchase into a game."
For example, if someone is asking $6 for a teapot and $6 for a tray, ask if you can have both items for $10. Multiple purchases will often increase your negotiating leverage. Or have the other person start the price-lowering process by asking if the price marked is the lowest they’ll go. Sometimes they’ll suggest a price that’s less than what you would have offered.
Once you become comfortable with asking, take your skills to larger arenas—anything from calling your phone carrier and asking for a lower rate to settling a multi-million-dollar contract. The most effective deals are a win-win proposition for all parties rather than a winner-loser result, says Lewis-Fernandez.
In the beginning, Lewis-Fernandez says inexperienced negotiators will have missteps. She shares the five most common mistakes that are made during negotiations and how you can avoid them:
Some people think it takes a bold or brazen personality to negotiate a deal, and others think experience is required. Instead, Lewis-Fernandez says negotiations takes tenacity and preparation.
"Before you start the process, make sure you’ve identified mutually desirable terms, anticipated possible objections, and determined what motivators or ‘hot buttons’ will resonate with your opponent," she says. "Projecting confidence also means having a heart, which is often endearing and gives the opposition a less defensive stance."
When you think like a negotiator, everything is negotiable, says Lewis-Fernandez, who says one of her best negotiations was getting her sister to get out of a contract to purchase a car.
"When you decide that the terms for anything can be changed in your favor, a world of opportunity presents," she says. "Rules can be modified if you simply propose an ethical, viable, and mutually beneficial alternative solution. Powerful negotiators are rule breakers."
One of the biggest mistakes individuals make in negotiations is not getting to know their opponent. Slow down and make connections with people and you’ll glean useful information that can be used to identify what they value in life, what motivates them, and what annoys them.
"You might be surprised how well you can leverage what you learn through a genuine conversation with someone," says Lewis-Fernandez.
It sounds simple, but the key to successful negotiations is asking for what you want. Fear of rejection or the fear of looking greedy can get in the way. But know that rejection will happen.
"Rejection is never personal," says Lewis-Fernandez. "It’s merely a reflection that you did not present a viable argument substantiating why you should get what you want. Your offer was rejected, not you."
When you get a no, it means the other person needs more information. "Take heart in knowing that people say no an average of three times before they say yes," says Lewis-Fernandez. "The only way to master the art of rejection is to get rejected and keep asking."
Talking too much is a sure-fire way to kill a deal. In fact, Lewis-Fernandez says it’s not unusual for a salesperson to talk so much about a product or service that they talk you right out of the purchase.
"Never underestimate the power of silence," she says. "There’s an old adage: ‘He or she who speaks next loses.’ When discussing a deal, if you simply stop talking and get comfortable with the awkwardness of silence, your ability to win your argument, sell the product, or a get concession in the negotiation increases significantly."