Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

Title Image
The Post-College Survival Handbook
An Excerpt By Steven P. Cohen

Book Cover Back when you were a small child and you stood in the aisle of a store and pleaded with a parent for the purchase of a cereal, a toy, or a game, you were negotiating. You may have been promising you'd be good. You may have been articulating that the item was needed, it was the thing to have. Your simple persistence may have been the biggest bargaining chip you held in these dealing with grown-ups.

Somehow, many people seem to lose the boldness and creativity needed to negotiate as they come into adulthood. Whining as you did when you were a child is certainly no longer appropriate, but other strategies are. Why don't you use them? Maybe you just don't know what they are. Sometimes you may not recognize when there's an opportunity to negotiate and think of negotiating as being applicable only to international peace relations, boundary disputes, and maybe car buying. Yet, there are plenty of opportunities to negotiate when taking a job, making a purchase, or working out chores or divisions of financial responsibility with a housemate. If you don't practice your negotiating skills, you're apt to miss chances to improve situations for yourself. Or you may feel vaguely resentful and shortchanged after certain encounters, without really being able to pinpoint how things may have tumed out more to your liking.

What Negotiating Entails

Steven P. Cohen, a Massachusetts negotiator and mediator who runs a training firm called The Negotiation Skills Company, likes to say that negotiating helps people reach decisions jointly "in a civilized way." (The company offers advice on its Web site at ) That depiction makes sense: If people didn't negotiate, the options would be one person intimidating or dictating conditions, or perhaps one party abdicating interest in any given situation.

Cohen says that negotiating requires multiple steps. First, you have to know what you really want, why and how badly you want or need it, and at what point you're willing to walk away without getting it. Second, you've got to know what the other party wants and why it's important to them. This is vital information if you're going to craft some creative resolution that will satisfy everyone. Also, how much do they need or want what you have to offer? What would make them really happy? Does their behavior demonstrate honesty and sincerity, indicating you can trust them to follow through on their word? Some people are going to be upfront with you when you ask what they want, others are going to be more guarded and perhaps afraid that you've got some secret agenda to trick them.

How much time you spend on this kind of discussion and bargaining research depends on what you want and the nature of your relationship with the person. You may be able to observe a lot about your boss--how much she values punctuality and order and quiet, for example. It may not be worth your time to ask lots of questions about every assignment your boss hands down. You can tell what your boss wants from observation.

On the other hand, if you keep getting more and more projects loaded onto you at work, it may be worth several conversations with your boss to negotiate your working conditions, and his or her satisfaction with your job performance. Using Cohen's approach, you might ask your boss questions like:

  • How important is this project compared to the one I'm already working on in terms of my time commitment7 How about the deadline?

  • Is there anything you want me to do differently with these projects than the pre vious ones we've handled?

  • How do the higher-ups view this project or client?

  • Is there any data or any resources already available that would help me finish this faster for you?

  • Should I work under an overtime pay schedule to get this done for you? Alternatively, depending on your work situation, you might try: If I work late to get this done quickly, will I be able to take some comp time next week or at some other time?
If you can approach this situation in a helpful, interested way, without seeming challenging or complaining, in most instances you're likely to get the best result: clear objectives from your boss, perhaps some help on the project, and compensation for added time on the job. If the opposite is true, and your boss is uncommunicative, defiant, or unhelpful, you've got to know for your own well-being when it's best to walk away. Some people aren't good business partners, reasonable suppliers, or fair employers. You might not discover that in a single attempt at negotiation, but over time such patterns will become apparent. You then have to decide if that's a good place for you to be. If you're negotiating a one-shot deal, such as the purchase of a stereo system, you've still got to know when you can't reach amiable, agreeable terms, and when it would be better for you to pass on a given deal and either shop for another opportunity, or wait for one to emerge.

Some Possible Subjects of Financial Negotiations

The topics that can be negotiated are wide-ranging. Here are just a few that have financial ramifications:

  • More money, better working conditions, less work, or more vacation, for yourself or for your bargaining unit if you're unionized

  • A car lease or purchase

  • An agreement about who pays certain bills at home

  • An agreement to switch shifts with a coworker

  • A creditor's willingness to let you delay a payment because you've just gotten laid off

  • A discount on the rent in return for mowing the lawn

  • New paint paid for by the landlord in return for your labor in repainting the living room

  • A sabbatical when the terms aren't clearly spelled out in the employee handbook

  • A discount because a piece of merchandise you want, a book or an item of clothing, for example, has a small stain or tear

  • A divorce

  • A credit card with the annual fee waived

  • Free delivery on a big appliance you've purchased

  • A repair contract for your condo's roof, on behalf of your condo association

  • A graduate-school fellowship

When you look at negotiations in this light, you can see how often the skill can be useful in everyday life. You can also see that in negotiations for big-ticket items like cars, apartment rents, and so on, there's not much room for acting only on impulse. You really have to think about what purchase or agreement would make the most sense for you. And to know that, you almost certainly have to comparison shop to understand prices and supplies.

How To Practice Your Negotiating Skills

Start out with low-intensity, congenial settings where you can talk and chat and when the stakes aren't very high. A farmer's market or a yard sale can be such a setting. If the prices aren't marked, you're almost led into negotiations, because you have to ask the seller how much he or she wants for an item. Late in the day of the sale, the seller may be willing to settle for less than before or he or she may accept an entirely different price for buying two or three items in bulk.

In relationships, families, and work settings, you may want to start small on your negotiating skills if you've rarely asserted yourself in the past. When you start asking for what you want, the other parties will sense the rules of the game are shifting and react with surprise or dismay. That, in turn, can shake your confidence, and you might back down before you realize what has happened. So it's easier for some people to start out in matters of smaller consequences, where possible, and build confidence and self assurance.

In some sales situations, or other settings where someone is trying to convince you of something, the other party will make it easy for you to practice negotiating. They'll just come out and ask: What can I do to convince you or to earn your business7 And you'll be able to tell them what you want, whether you feel you can even consider the deal or position they're offering, or if you'd rather not participate in the situation.

Used by permission of Macmillan General Reference, USA, a Simon & Schuster Macmillan Company, from THE POST-COLLEGE SURVIVAL HANDBOOK by Jo-Ann Johnston.

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©1997 by Jo-Ann Johnston. No further reproduction of this material may be made without the written consent of the publisher.

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