Seven tips on how to successfully negotiate your way to happiness

By Sam Gusway

Feel like you’re always getting a bad deal? Learning to negotiate will help you reach happy agreements with teachers, parents, friends, and future employers

By Sam Gusway |

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You don’t always need to negotiate in life. If you do it all the time, pretty soon no one will want to suggest anything to you. So when an old woman asks you to help her cross the street, or when your parents asks you to help in the kitchen, it might be nicer to just help, instead of asking: “What’s in it for me?”

Young Post took part in a negotiating workshop held by consultancy company Scotwork, and picked up some useful tips on how - and when - to negotiate.

Don’t fight; negotiate

If there’s something you want to do (join a team, get a dog, buy a phone) and someone tells you no, or if people want you to do something (play an instrument, get a haircut, dress differently) that you don’t want to do, then you can try negotiating.

It’s easy to get emotional, especially when your dealing with family members, but if you stay calm and talk things through, your negotiation will be much more efficient.

Preparation is key

Like many things in life, the more you prepare for something, the better off you’ll be. Good preparation will save you a lot of time when you finally sit down to negotiate. When you’re preparing, you have to think about everything you need and everything you want. You also have to consider everything the other side wants and needs, and examine your history together.

How well do you know each other? Have you ever let them down? Have they ever let you down? Have you or they ever gone “above and beyond” what was asked? These might be important facts to bring up.

Know your bottom line

This is probably the most important information to have. Whether it is time or money, you need to know exactly how much you need to do the job. Anything above that number is a bonus.

For example, if you are trying to convince your parents to let you play more games, how much time do you need to play? If it takes half an hour to set up and play the game, then 30 minutes is your bottom line. If your parents say you can only play five minutes a day, then you know immediately that this will not work for you.

But it also helps to be flexible with this. Perhaps you can suggest to your parents that instead of playing five minutes each day, you will only play one day a week, for 35 minutes. The numbers work out the same, but now you have repackaged your proposal into something they might be willing to accept.

Be nice!

A truly successful negotiation is not one where you get everything you want – it’s one where all parties are happy. It’s important that even when you are in a position of power, you still try to work with the people you are negotiating with, to give them something that will make them happy.

There are a few reasons for doing this. First, if they are powerless or desperate, of course they will agree to anything you say. But a) will they actually do everything they promised? And will they do it well?

And b) what about two months from now, or a year from now? If you make the negotiation all about everything-for-you, nothing-for-them, then as soon as they have any kind of power, they will want to re-negotiate, and you’ll find yourself back at the same place.

Listen for key phrases

If the other side simply tells you no, then there is not much you can do but accept it. But there are times when their refusal still leaves you a bit of room to negotiate. If you want to get a dog and your mum says: “It’s hard for me to imagine you looking after a dog”, you can ask a question, such as: “What would I have to do to convince you that I am responsible enough?”

If your mum says: “We can’t get a dog right now”, the words “right now” imply that there is a possibility of getting a dog at another time. Now you can ask: “When would be a good time to get a dog?” Now you’re negotiating.

Summarise, summarise, summarise – and make the other side do it, too

Negotiating can often get very complicated, and it’s easy to lose track of the small promises and demands each side makes along the way. It is very important to summarise what has been said so that you don’t move backwards in the discussion.

Take a look at the example of getting a dog. If you are successful, it probably won’t just be: “Yes, we can get a dog.” It will more likely be: “We can get a dog if ... ”. That “if” is very important. For everyone to be happy with the decision, you’ll need to agree on things like who will walk the dog, who will clean up after it, who will feed the dog, who will pay for the dog’s food, toys, vet fees, etc. There could also be punishments added to the agreement, such as: “If I forget to walk the dog, I will have to mop the floors.”

Once you think you’ve reached an agreement, read out your summary one more time, making sure the other side agrees with each point. Then, get the other side to read the summary in their own words, to make sure you both agree on what each promise means.

Don’t weasel out

When it’s all said and done, the most important thing now is that you keep your end of the bargain. Live up to your promises and people will have more faith in and respect for you, and they’ll be more willing to work with you and give you things you want in the future.

Edited by Ginny Wong