Learn how to improve your negotiation skills and get what you want

There are lots of times in life – especially as an employee, freelancer or business owner – that great negotiation skills are essential. From securing a pay rise or extra freelance work, to increasing an order from a business client, well-honed negotiation skills can help you to get what you want. 

The importance of fair negotiations 

The first rule of negotiations is to keep them above board and fair. In the short term, aggressive or manipulating behaviour may get you what you want, but if the other person walks away from your negotiations feeling cheated or upset, you may damage your chances of earning their trust in future. They may even refuse to deal with you, or tell others to avoid you.

In an ideal world, honest negotiation and compromise should leave both parties feeling satisfied, and happy to deal with each other again in future.

Planning your negotiations 

To give yourself the best chance of a good outcome, it’s important to plan your negotiations in advance:

  • Think about what you want or need from an outcome, and how important different factors are to you. What can you be flexible about? What other solutions may there be?
  • Anticipate the other party’s likely approach and perspective. What are their wants and needs? What is the best outcome for them? Is there any way you can meet their needs through your suggestions? What is their negotiating strategy? If you’ve dealt with them before, what happened?
  • Plan alternatives to your suggestions to reduce the pressure on you, and boost your confidence. For example, if you’re negotiating a vital salary increase, investigate different jobs you could apply for if your negotiations fail.
  • Research the market or competition. If you’re asking for a pay rise, investigate the market rate for your role. If you’re offering a service or products, what else is available, and how can you better it?

Negotiating to win

To ensure your negotiations are more likely to succeed:

  • Choose a good time and place to meet (always meet face to face rather than making your request or suggestion in writing).
  • Start by stating your interest in the negotiation. For example, ‘I would like to discuss how I can meet your business needs further’.
  • If you can, secure an initial agreement before you start negotiating. For example, ‘If we can agree on the details, would you be happy to go ahead?’.
  • If possible, try to avoid going first in negotiations. Instead outline to the other party what you are offering, and ask what they would be willing to pay or agree to.
  • If you do go first, make your request clearly and without being apologetic or emotional. If you can, start high, giving yourself room to bargain, while still getting what you want.
  • Whether you are asking for a pay rise or selling a product or service, be clear about your unique benefits.
  • Manage any objections sensitively, giving more information to reinforce your point.
  • To ensure that you completely understand the other party’s needs, use clarifying questions. For example, ‘You’re looking for a freelancer who can turn around projects very quickly on demand, is that correct?’.

Coming to an agreement

  • If, at the end of your discussion, the other party doesn’t agree to your proposal, ask them what their reasons are. It may be that you can address any reservations or practical considerations.
  • Don’t feel pressured to accept a lower offer by the other party. Give yourself time to decide whether or not to accept it. If appropriate you could bargain with them. For example, if your employer or manager says they can’t afford to give you a pay rise, you could suggest instead that you work fewer, or more flexible, hours for your current salary.
  • If appropriate, suggest another discussion at a later date. For example if your employer requests certain performance targets before awarding you a pay rise, or if a client doesn’t currently have a need for your products or services.

What happens if you’re not happy?

If you aren’t happy with the results of your negotiations:

  • Consider carefully what your needs are, and if the offer is able to meet them in any way.
  • If the offer doesn’t meet your needs, think what you’re willing to risk in order to try and meet them – for example, your job or relationship with a client.
  • If you’re willing to take the risk, be firm with the other party that you are not willing to concede on your offer. (It’s important to present this as an honest statement rather than a threat or blackmail.)
  • If the other party still refuses your request then part on good terms and start investigating your other options, such as looking for a new job or finding new clients.