So you're looking at your calendar and you see you've got a negotiation coming up—one you've done nothing to prepare for. Maybe it's a sit down with your boss where you want to discuss a raise or promotion. Or maybe it's with a prospective client for a gig you really want to land. No matter what type of negotiation you're heading into, these tips and techniques can help swing things in your favor even, if you don't have much time to prepare.
Whenever I'm gearing up to negotiate, the first thing I focus on is pinning down what my prospective client needs from me: Why are they embarking on this project? If I can anticipate the kind of help they need, I'll feel a lot better going into the meeting.
Then summarize your understanding of that need and why it’s important to them: "They’re a regional player with a substantial but splintered business, desperate for growth, and surrounded by competitors. They need to rebrand to gain market share or get acquired."
Every project has a fee range, just like every raise you ever ask for has a limit. Do some quick research to try and pin down that range as best as you can. Look up industry pricing guides and run a few news searches for mentions of fees charged for similar work. If you'll be negotiating your own salary, head over to Glassdoor or a similar site. Or just shoot a quick note or two to colleagues and friends and ask them what’s appropriate.
This one can be tough. You might not think you're quite worth it—that your work can always be better—but remember that if the person you're negotiating with needs your help and contribution, they already think you're worth it. Asking for top dollar confirms that you’re a top player.
As negotiation experts Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer have explained to Fast Company, the first number mentioned in a negotiation becomes the "anchor" for the rest of the discussion. Psychologically, that's a powerful tool. Enter your negotiation knowing the figure you want and state it as the anchor.
Much the same way you need to set an anchor, you also need to know your baseline limit. Never go into a negotiation without knowing your "below this I walk" number.
No matter how much you have (or haven't) prepared, when you walk into that room, you need to shift your thoughts toward finding out what you don't know ahead of time. Ask yourself, "What should I ask about, given what I already know?"
Asking is far more effective than telling, even for those of us who are persuasive talkers. So consider the negotiation a conversation of discovery: "It seems to me you're vulnerable for either a possible acquisition or a new stage of growth. Is that how you see it?"
Physically moving from the opposite side of the table to their side—to review a document or some other material together—is a powerful way to create a feeling of mutuality. When we sit across from one another, we're naturally opposed. Sitting together changes the dynamic from competing to cooperating.
This takes practice. We tend to focus on ourselves when we're under stress. But I’ve found it calming to study others and ask myself, "What’s going on with him right now? Did he rush to work this morning? Did he drink too much coffee?" Right or wrong, the exercise humanizes the other party for me, reducing my stress.
What the client wants from you is to help shape their future, based on their present needs. So while you want to attend to the issue they're looking to address right now, your focus should point toward the level they'll reach once that's done. Inspire them with how you can take them where they need to go.
You have experience and expertise. So does your potential employer, client, or current boss. Whoever you're negotiating with, you have the opportunity to ask questions. The answers you'll hear will create opportunities for you to make informed suggestions. This part of a negotiation can't really be planned for since it happens on the fly—and that's a good thing. Work collaboratively with the other party to redefine the scope as need be, changing the context of your conversation depending on where you sense the greatest opportunity lies.
A young creative who consulted with me about negotiating was going into a final interview. He was one of just two candidates in contention for a big job. He’d been out of work and felt especially vulnerable.
He’d interviewed with this executive before and felt good about their last meeting. So I suggested, "Ask him for his help. You can say, ‘Bob, you've had more experience in meetings like this than I. Can you help me out with expectations for our conversation today?’"
He got the gig.
The worst place to be when chasing an opportunity is having no alternatives. It can make you feel—and therefore seem—desperate. So find some viable options in case this negotiation doesn't go the way you hope it will. Think of steps you could take afterward that might advance your cause anyway. Make a list including:
- other projects you could pursue
- people who could help
- expanding your social media presence
- updating your website
In other words, sketch out some other activities that will help you feel momentum even if this one doesn't.
At a bargaining session’s close, you can seal the deal with a handshake (just make sure you’re all in agreement on the deal you’re shaking on). You’ve developed a relationship, and together you’ve resolved how to move forward. Your client is expecting an appropriate conclusion to your time together, so don’t let this important moment slip away. Here’s what to say:
"Okay, Janice, given our discussion today I believe we need to [summarize what you’ve discussed]." Then, "How does that sound?" If she modifies your summary, simply re-summarize.
Once you’ve reached an agreement on the description, say, "In my experience, projects like this take X months and Y dollars. If that sounds right, I’ll send a contract for your review tomorrow." Again, if she modifies what you've proposed, re-summarize until you reach a verbal agreement.
Ted Leonhardt is a designer and illustrator, and former global creative director of FITCH Worldwide. His specialized approach to negotiation helps creative workers build on their strengths and own their value in the marketplace. Follow Ted on Twitter at @tedleonhardt.