The art of negotiation

4 tips to get what you want at the negotiating table

From the pages of In Business magazine.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to fulfill one of our most important civic duties — serving on a jury. It was a case involving a person accused of robbery.

Here is the SparkNotes summary of the case:

Over a span of two days a group of men burglarized several homes. One defendant claimed that although he was involved in the other burglaries, there was one house at which another robber did a solo job and he was not involved. After three days of witness testimony from what seemed like every law enforcement officer, neighbor, and person who lived in the county where the crime was committed, it was the jury’s job to make a decision on guilt or innocence.

As we made our way to the deliberation room, it was clear to me the state had done a more-than-adequate job of carrying the burden of proof and proving the defendant was guilty. We chose a jury foreperson and took a preliminary vote on how each juror felt. Prior to deliberations the tally was nine for guilty and three for not guilty. So the deliberations — I’ll call them negotiations — began.

No matter what type of occupation you have or industry you work in, being a good negotiator is critical to your success. Do you want a better price on a purchase? How about getting your significant other to buy into redecorating the house or taking a big trip? At its core, negotiation is really about getting what you want and who doesn’t want that! I could write for pages about strategies for successful negotiations, but here are four tips to get you started.

  1. Ask for what you want: Time is precious. You don’t want to waste yours and nobody wants you to waste theirs, so make sure it’s clear what both sides want out of the negotiations from the onset. Be assertive and remember that everything is negotiable.
  2. Think big: Start your negotiation by aiming high and asking for more than you may really think you’ll receive. If you expect to get more, you’ll end up getting more. It’s easier to come down on price and make some concessions than it is to start low and ask for more.
  3. Listen carefully: Even if you have strong opinions or interests, it’s important to listen to the other side’s case. Ask probing questions to determine their motivation, why they want the outcome they do, and what roadblocks prevent them from moving to your winning scenario. It sounds simple but just “hearing” someone is not the same as listening. Truly focus on listening to understand, not just to respond.
  4. Don’t take it personally: Even if the issue is personal, don’t take the negotiation personally. In its truest form a negotiation is meant to create a solution to a problem. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Heck, even mirror their communication style. Keep a calm demeanor and tone even if things get heated. As the saying goes, you can attract more bees with honey than vinegar.



Fast Track Action Items for April:
■ Identify a situation with a spouse, coworker, or friend where being a strong negotiator will get a desired outcome.
■ Before the actual negotiation, be very clear about what you want and what you suspect the other person will want.
■ Make an aggressive first offer but look for creative win-win solutions.
■ Do more reading on the topic. (I recommend Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton.) Eventually you’ll be a skilled negotiator and you may even enjoy it.

Did you have a successful negotiation? I’d love to hear about it! Send me an email at

Jenna Atkinson is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building opportunities to local business leaders.

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