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Negotiate Like A Pro

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
September 2, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 35

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

Life is full of negotiations. If you’re given a new project at work, for example, you may need to negotiate the project’s deadline, its priority over other tasks, and what the final product will be. Negotiating is really a balancing act with multiple interdependent variables—not only what each party wants and what they’re willing to give up but also each individual’s role in the project.

With some advance preparation, you can put yourself in the best possible position to arrive at a happy medium. Here are some tips to help you work toward a win-win outcome:

EXPAND YOUR POSSIBILITIES. Identify a range of possible solutions to the problem, then determine where in that range you prefer to be and the minimum you’re willing to accept. Also, find out in as much detail as possible what the other party wants, needs, and will ­accept.

Remember that a person’s desire to gain something is often less powerful than the desire to keep what he or she already has (psychologists call this loss aversion). This drive to avoid a loss can prompt someone to accept an offer that’s less than ideal. If you find yourself balking at the thought of giving something up, take a step back and make sure it’s something you really need.

When you do give up something, work the concession to your advantage by getting something in return. The other side will place more value on what they’ve got, effectively strengthening your position.

REALLY LISTEN. Listening is not the same as waiting to talk. Pay close attention to what the other person is saying, and then paraphrase it back so he or she knows you’ve absorbed the points. Then ask open-ended questions to find out what the other party really cares about and what he or she is more willing to concede.

When it’s your turn to talk, be sure to include reasons for your requests. Simply explaining why you need something can make the other participants more likely to honor to your request.

LOOK FOR THE WIN-WIN. If each party gets to win on the item he or she feels is most important, everyone will go away happy. Try to bring more subjects into the negotiation so everyone can have a win somewhere. Maybe you can offer something they haven’t thought of, or you can set things up so they’ll get something in the near future.

ACKNOWLEDGE OBSTACLES. When the other party tells you why he or she can’t do something, accept it, and look for other ways to achieve the same goal. For example, if the other person doesn’t have the authority to make a particular decision, suggest that he or she involve someone who does. Or if they don’t have the budget for what you need now, suggest installment payments. If you think through the other person’s argument, chances are you’ll be able to come up with some suggestions to meet each other halfway.

BE PATIENT. Sometimes you’ll reach an impasse with no solution in sight. By taking a break from the discussion, you may be able to clear your head and come up with some alternatives. Think about your situation overnight, and perhaps research some new options.

Negotiations don’t have to be adversarial. By using the simple tips outlined here, you can help make sure that everyone walks away happy with the outcome.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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