Negotiation can sound like a daunting task. But with a few tips, you can be so much better at asking for — and getting — anything you want.
"Sometimes we think of negotiation as this really fraught and difficult or charged thing, especially if we don't know much about it," says Alexandra Dickinson, founder and CEO of Ask For It, a company that trains teams, organizations and clients to be better negotiators.
Just think of it as a "creative problem-solving" mindset, not a situation where one side wins and one side loses, she says.
Here is Dickinson's easy, three-step process to negotiate like a pro.
"You want to do your homework and do some bench-marking," Dickinson says.
For example, if you want your cable company to lower your bill, she suggests reaching out to friends and neighbors who use the same provider.
"Find out what kind of deal they have," she advises. "Are they paying the same price? Do they have different terms in their contract? You don't have to go line by line, but you want to get the gist of it so you have some actual information."
Also find out, "What are this company's competitors doing? Have you seen promotions?" she says. "You have to be clear on the details so you can have an informed and intelligent discussion."
The research step is important because it will help you determine your focus. "You have to know what you are willing to give on, and what is top priority for you," she says.
The second step is about strategy.
"You need to be crystal clear on what you are asking for," Dickinson says. For example, if you're trying to negotiate your salary, you can't just say "I'd like a raise."
To clarify the goal of the negotiation, she suggests determining your "wish, want and walk" numbers. The "wish" number is your starting point, the "want" number is the salary you are aiming for and the "walk" number is your bottom line.
To determine your "walk" number, ask yourself, "At what point is this no longer a good deal for you? At what point is it no longer worth it?" she says, with a reminder that in a salary negotiation, you may need to maintain a relationship.
Then, when negotiating, start with your wish and go from there. "If you make, let's say $100,000 now, and you want to make $120,000, then you might start at $135,000," explains Dickinson.
"There is a way to be direct and also still polite and respectful," she says. "Just because you are asking for something doesn't mean you need to be rude."
She says that neither being too combative or too meek works well. To avoid those pitfalls, use the phrase "I would like" as opposed to language such as "I need a discount, I want a discount, I deserve to pay less."
"It is kind of a straightforward, middle-of-the-road way to ask for something without ... being a bully or a door mat," she says.
One way to make sure you won't go too far one way or the other is, before the conversation, set your intentions. Write them down and keep them with you during the negotiation.
According to Dickinson, try something like this: "I'm going to go into this negotiation and I'm feeling a little nervous about it, but my intention is to do right by my own wants and needs while maintaining respect for the other person."
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This story has been revised and updated.