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Why negotiation is important at work and how to do it

Good negotiation skills can help you in so many situations in life – not least at work. Employers look for people who can get what they want without hurting other people’s feelings.

It’s easy to shy away from negotiating because it’s not something you learn at school – is it?

In this post, we'll answer: what does negotiation mean? We'll show you how to negotiate, and explain how good negotiation skills can help you in work and life.

'You can use the skills you learn at school for negotiation at work'

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What does negotiating mean?

It might be better to ask what negotiating isn’t! Negotiation is not about getting your own way at all costs, and losing all your friends in the process.

You know when you wanted to go on that school trip to Alton Towers and your mum said it was too expensive and you said it wasn’t fair and stormed off and refused to talk to her for the rest of the day? Can you think why she didn’t miraculously change her mind?

Negotiating is all about give and take – that means recognising that in order to reach your goal, you might have to give something back in return.

In this scenario, you could have explained to your mum that part of the day involved a science talk about the physics of roller coasters. And if that hadn’t worked, you could have offered to pay half the cost out of your pocket money. That way, you would have shown that you were willing to be flexible and understanding.

The importance of negotiation at work

This is never truer than when you’re just starting out in working life. When you’ve made 20 job applications, have finally secured that first interview, and things seem to be going well, it can be very easy to bend over backwards to get the job.

As the Alton Towers example shows, negotiation skills can help you out in any area of life. Maybe you want to delay a coursework deadline, stay out late, or persuade your parents to pay for driving lessons. Later in life, you might need to negotiate the cost of a house or a car. But it’s at work that negotiating can prove most useful.

Here are some other things you might need to negotiate in your working life:

  • A pay rise.
  • Working from home.
  • Time off.
  • Training.
  • Maternity pay.

Remember, it’s in your employer’s interests to hire someone who has good negotiation skills. A good employer wants people who can get things done without upsetting their colleagues, and who can keep customers or clients happy without giving too much away.

So what do I know already?

What you might not realise is that you probably have plenty of negotiation skills already. And where have you learnt them? At school of course!

In English literature, have you noticed the way your teacher encourages you each to share your views, challenge one another, and talk about your different interpretations to work out what might be right and what might be wrong?

Or maybe you study A-level philosophy, and you’re used to the idea that there are very few right or wrong answers. What you learn to do in class is not only to present your point of view in a persuasive way, but to listen to others’ views and think about how that changes your own.

How to negotiate:

If you know how to persuade but also how to listen, you’ve already learnt two very important negotiation skills.

Take a look at this infographic, which lists some of the top negotiation skills:

With a bit of self-belief and determination, these steps should help you improve your negotiation skills:

1. Prepare

At work, you’ll usually know if and when you’re going to need to negotiate, because it will probably take place in a pre-arranged meeting. This means you have time to prepare. If it’s a job interview, think about the things you might have to negotiate, like pay and hours.

Reflect on what you really want, but also how far you’re willing to compromise. If you know the other person, think about what approach works best with them – for example, do they like to keep things calm and rational, or are they more emotionally driven?

2. Work out what the other person wants

The reason you’re negotiating is because you have a goal you want to achieve. Remember that the other person does as well. Try to understand what their goal is, and what you can do to help them meet it.

Remember the Alton Towers example? Mum’s goal was to save money – she didn’t say no for the sake of it. So when you offered to help towards the cost, she agreed. If you’re not prepared to give as well as take, you won’t get anywhere.

3. Listen and ask questions

You need to do more than just barge in and say your piece. If you listen to what the other person has to say, you can get a clearer idea of what they want to achieve. Ask questions if anything is unclear – this will also show the other person that you’re listening to them.

You never know – by listening properly, you might find your aims are closer than you thought.

Want to be a better listener? Check out our guide to improving your communication skills

4. Don’t get personal

It can be frustrating when it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, and it can be very easy to get upset. Whatever happens, don’t pick faults with the other person. "I knew we’d never get anywhere because you’ve never liked me" is the worst thing to say in a negotiating situation. They’re probably not trying to be difficult and may well feel the same as you.

If you’re going round in circles, think about it from their point of view, and imagine what would make you would make you give ground if you were in their shoes. Always be polite, professional and respectful, not least because you’ll have to work with each other after the meeting.

If this doesn't come easily, take a look at out guide to improving your people skills.

5. Be firm

Remember we talked earlier about deciding how far you’re willing to compromise? Don’t lose sight of that even if you’re under pressure. If you agree to something you’re uncomfortable with, you will probably be unhappy in your job.

Think about school – if you’re not happy in lessons, you don’t work as well, and that’s no good for anyone. If you’re not happy at work, you could decide to leave, which is bad news for you, your employer and your colleagues.

6. Try it out at school or home

The best way to master any employability skill is to get some practice! The next time a disagreement with mum, dad, your best friend looks like it might get out of hand, reach for your negotiation skills and see if you can avoid a scene.

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