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Article Written by:  Sara Lindberg, Business Insider

  • Negotiation is not the same thing as conflict— you have to be willing to compromise and/or say no if you don’t like the offer.
  • Though it’s widely hated, being able to negotiate is a skill you need if you want to get ahead in your career.
  • Being optimistic, prepared, and using active listening can boost your changes of success.

When I left the comfort of a steady paycheck to pursue full-time freelance work, I had no idea how difficult negotiating in the work world was going to be.

For the prior 20 years, I’d lived in the land of education. I worked in a system that pays a set amount of money based on two criteria: the number of years you’ve been working, and the amount of education you have.

As a result, I was poorly prepared for the world of freelance, where being successful requires you to be a master negotiator — something I’ve always hated doing.

I had to quickly get past the idea that negotiation equals conflict, and instead embrace the fact that it’s about communicating your needs to get what you deserve.

Here are some expert tips for negotiating, even for those who loathe the idea of it:

1. Negotiating is separate from conflict
If you think negotiating with another person feels like conflict, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons people avoid negotiations. “People often see negotiations as win-lose, and they fear the other side will win and they will lose,” Marianne Eby, a negotiation expert and CEO of Watershed Associates, told Business Insider.

“But negotiating done well can be a win-win,” Eby said. All it really takes is “talking with a goal in mind.” She said that if you shift your idea of negotiating from conflict to conversation, you’ll realize there are more opportunities to develop solutions than reasons to be afraid.

2. Be optimistic
If you go into a negotiation doubting your worth, there’s a good chance you’re not going to get what you ask for. That’s why it’s important to be optimistic.

“Start from a positive posture, believe that you are going to succeed, and operate accordingly,” Joy Altimare, career expert and chief engagement and brand officer at EHE, told Business Insider.

3. Show up prepared
Preparing for a negotiation is no different than the work you would do for any other important meeting. “Prepare in advance for a challenging conversation so that you can anticipate the questions and navigate based on the facts — not emotion,” Altimare said.

“Do some homework about what is possible in this situation, and don’t second-guess yourself before you get your ask out of your mouth,” Eby said.

4. Use your active listening skills
When you find yourself in the heat of negotiation, Altimare said to keep the process moving by asking open-ended questions that help you navigate toward a solution.

It’s actually quite simple: You ask the question, let the person answer, and then repeat the answer to help the other party feel as though they were heard.

5. Ask for what you want
“Even if the other side asks for something different first, still get your original ask on the table,” explained Eby. If you don’t, you will be negotiating what they want, not what you need.

6. Remember that you’re always negotiating during the negotiation
From the moment you sit down to negotiate, your body language, eye contact, and word choice can have an effect on how the conversation is going to flow, Altimare explained. Be confident and use facts. “Always challenge first offers, even when it’s better than you were expecting,” said Eby. Otherwise, the other side will feel they didn’t get a good deal and you’ll wonder if you did too.

7. Identify and address interests
“Positions are what people want or ask for, but interests are ‘why’ they want it,” explained Eby. If you go into a negotiation only willing to battle your position or get what you want, then you lose out on the opportunity to identify and address your interests. You also lose out on the opportunity to identify shared interests.

If you can find common ground with the person you’re negotiating with, it might be easier for them to understand, and possibly agree with, what you’re asking for. In fact, you might be surprised at how willing they are to listen (and negotiate) if you start with “why.”

8. Link concessions to things that you want
This tip puts you in a position of power and helps you find a middle ground. Eby calls it the: “Say yes, if …” line.

For example, “I’m willing to work weekends to get the job done IF you pay me overtime.”

9. Respectfully say ‘no’

“When you’ve reached an impasse and it doesn’t appear that you’ll be able to walk away with dignity and/or mutual respect between the two parties if you continue the negotiation, it’s time to stop,” Altimare said. Perhaps plan a time to revisit the conversation or take a break and decide on a different approach to reach your goals.