I had the opportunity this week to ask Eldonna Lewis-Fernandez, author of “Think Like a Negotiator,” a few questions about one of the most intimidating experiences many of us face in the workplace: negotiations. That is, if we don’t just avoid them like the plague. Sadly, shrewd negotiation skills are not taught in school, though they can be crucial to furthering both personal and organizational goals. But skills can be taught, and Lewis-Fernandez has deep knowledge in this area, after 30 years in contracts management and negotiation. She shared with me insights related to her strong belief that approaching a negotiation as if it were a game helps people not only overcome their fear but focus on the fact that it should be a win-win situation.
A workplace negotiation, she says:
“… may be perceived as an all-or-nothing deal. That makes the stakes appear too high for many and causes an avoidance of negotiation due to the perceived high stakes – high cost activity.”
Okay, so a successful negotiator will relieve some of the pressure by not charging in with a prevail-or-die-trying attitude. Makes sense. That being the case, I was dying to ask her specifically about initiating a negotiation for a raise in pay. Conventional wisdom tells us over and over that we should ask more often, and that we just need to get over our fear. But that is so much easier said than done that few muster the confidence to make the request. One of the most stressful negotiations in the workplace can be over the possibility of a raise in pay. How, specifically, can people get over their fear of beginning the negotiation for their own salary and create a successful conversation? What would success look like if it didn’t include an answer of “yes” on the raise?
This, says Lewis-Fernandez:
“… goes back to a level of confidence. Obviously, the salary will only be able to be increased to a certain amount. Being confident in your skills in this area requires you to prepare in advance. Part of that preparation requires thinking through the entire conversation and coming up with your bottom line. If you take the time to prepare in advance vs. going in with no idea of the outcome, you will feel more confident and most likely get closer to the number you initially open up with. The opposing party will see your confidence and know by the discussion that you did your homework. They will more likely entertain a conversation about your needs and work out a win-win that will be suitable to both.”
Directing the conversation to that win-win conclusion relates to one of Lewis-Fernandez’ key pieces of advice: You must ask for what you want. And sometimes, you may need to ask more than once.
“… in business, rejection is never personal—it’s merely a reflection that you did not present a viable argument substantiating why you should get what you want. It’s the offer that is being rejected, not you, so keep emotions in check and re-calibrate your approach. ‘No’ often just reflects a need for more information, and take heart in knowing that people say ‘no’ an average of three times before they say ‘yes.’ It is important to understand that if you don’t ask, you don’t get, and the only way to master the art of rejection is to get rejected and keep asking.”
Tomorrow, we will share more of Lewis-Fernandez’ advice on becoming a sharp negotiator.