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Negotiation Tips from a Professional Mediator

Negotiation Tips from a Professional Mediator

Kim Lankford,

Good negotiation skills have a huge impact on your career — whether you’re a salesperson making deals or an entry-level employee trying to get good assignments or cube neighbors to quiet down.

“Most people think of negotiation only when they need to get something more,” says Tammy Lenski, a professional mediator who helps universities and businesses nationwide with conflict management. “The reality is that at work, pretty much every conversation is a negotiation. You’re negotiating deadlines, the quality level, what might be taken off your plate to make room for this priority project and what benefit you might get for taking on that project. The minute you walk into the workplace in the morning, you’re negotiating.”

Lenski says big negotiation mistakes are common – people either are too confrontational or cave in because they’re afraid to ask some basic questions. “If people think of a negotiation more as a conversation than something that needs to be won, they’ll do much better,” she adds.

Here are four of Lenski’s tips on becoming a good negotiator – and improving your situation at work:

1. Tactic Is Dictated by Situation

Playing hardball in the office can backfire when you need to work with your coworkers every day. “You have an ongoing relationship with these folks, and you’re trying to not leave debris,” Lenski says. “People need to stop thinking about negotiating as getting more of what I need, which means getting less of what you need.”

Instead, find out the other person’s needs, and try to come to a conclusion that helps both of you. “The best negotiating is using the really good human relation skills in an effective way,” Lenski says. “It isn’t about pushing or convincing or manipulating the other person. It’s about having them figure out what they want and how you can help them get it.”

2. Ask Good Questions

In negotiations, you know what you want. But you also need to find out what the other side wants in return. It’s most efficient if you just ask openly.

When starting her private practice 10 years ago, Lenski presented her fee to provide conflict-management services to a company in turmoil. The department head asked her to slash her price 20 percent. Lenski said this was her bottom-line number, but the department head said everything is negotiable.

Lenski then asked the essential question: “Why do you believe everything is negotiable?” The department head explained the head of finance would ask if she bargained and got a good deal. At that point, Lenski crossed out the original fee and wrote a new one that was about 25 percent higher. “Will this work?” she asked.