09/14/2010 03:05 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to Negotiate For What You Want

We are not trained professionals when it comes to negotiating for what we want. No matter if it's asking for a raise, buying a car, getting more credit for your ideas, setting limits for your staff or even setting limits for your kids. Not understanding the process makes us stupid. And being stupid means we lose what we might have had.

The first step to successful negotiating is realizing that you're worthy, and that it's not only OK to ask for something, but it's an essential process in life. Women often don't know this and as a result, pay more for things, get paid less, and get less than they deserve or want.

The second step is getting over our distaste for it. Most of us hate the thought of negotiating and avoid it at all costs. But we can't afford to avoid to ignore learning how to. Accept that this is a transaction -- a necessary and established social game in which two or more parties stake out what they want and come to some compromise. Compromise doesn't have to mean getting half of what you want or giving up too much of what we want. While we are never in a life-and-death scenario, we often feel that it's all or nothing. But treating a negotiation like a zero-sum game means certain death of a transaction.

Here are the keys to becoming a successful negotiator.

  1. The Opening: This is not a begging session, nor is it demeaning to ask for what you want. It's an honorable exchange. However, don't come in making unreasonable demands. Keep in mind that this is a give and take, and keep it respectful. Signal your intention to get what you want, but be prepared to offer something in return.
  2. Know that it is not personal: This is the undoing of any meaningful strategy in a negotiation. Being emotional has no place. Fix your mind on the goal, not on how you feel - betrayed, overlooked, left out, under-compensated, unacknowledged. Anger and resentment foreclose any deal, and if you let these emotions take control, you can actually end up with less in the end.
  3. Do your homework: Educate yourself beforehand. All too often, we come to the table unprepared, not recognizing that negotiating is a two-way street with both sides getting something of value. We have to convince the other side with a powerful argument, and that takes preparation. You have to research what it will cost the other side and how you can make it worthwhile. Benefitting both sides, not only saves face, but also provides an on-going working relationship that is anything but all or nothing.
  4. Compromise is not the same as settling: Keep in mind that you need to keep asking for what you want, without giving in too soon. To do this effectively, you'll need to start by asking for what I call X+. In other words, ask for more than what you expect that the other side can give. That gives you what you originally wanted after they make your counter offer. Knowing that they are doing the same thing should prepare you, not anger you. Starting with X+ rather than only X, which would lead to X-, is something to practice. Ideally, you'll both come down to a level where you both come away with something you were looking for.

Here are four different examples from daily life:

  1. If you want a raise and there's no available budget for it, ask for something they can give and have given to others who have asked -- a promotion with a prorated raise. Or if that doesn't work, request other benefits that others have gotten as well that lie outside pure salary -- training, flex time, more responsibility and working on more of what interests you are good starting points. Remember that you have to keep proving that you are already doing more to deserve a raise and promotion. Keeping weekly documents of your outstanding work helps you to spur your memory and strengthen your requests for more pay during the year.
  2. If you want to work from home and avoid endless hours of commuting, you have to show your boss why it would pay off. You have to make a case for it being more productive and show how you would cover your absence from the office without losing anything. Pledge to be present at significant meetings and events, and to continue communicating essential information through email, texting and cell calls, thereby keeping your position alive on a cohesive team. If your boss does not agree, then go for your Plan B, offering to work from home two days while commuting to the office for three, or, Plan C offering a 10/40 schedule, working 4 long days at the office for one off. If that all fails, then Plan D is to ask your boss what else might work. Something might. If you are persistent, not giving way to a one-shot request or to frustration, you will have the chance to find a better solution together.
  3. If, at home, you want to have your children take more responsibility by doing chores, try negotiating instead of dictating what you want. Say that you would like to rotate the task of meal preparation. You might claim two nights for you and your spouse, one for pizza, and maybe one for going out. That leaves a couple of days for your kids to cook. Making a schedule together encourages each family member to feel like participating. Make an enticing case about how it's cool to learn to cook. Famous chefs have often been men, so motivate your boys too. Bite your tongue when they are messy and choose only hotdogs, and encourage them until they learn better and are proud of their work and contribution.
  4. If, when you go out with your friends, you find yourself stuck sharing the bill at pricey restaurants, stop remaining silent and resenting them, or worse, not joining them. Raise the idea of separate checks. That way you can order light and they can continue in their own style of complete dinners and drinks. You may have tried that before and felt embarrassed, but you can try again. Tell your friends how much eating together means to you but that you're on a strict financial budget and don't want it to affect your time together. Be the one who broaches the subject of a separate check to the waiter ahead of time to save face as well as money.

Practice makes you better, more even-tempered and satisfied. It will ready you to tackle larger, more complicated negotiations at work and in life. What have you got to lose?

Make your luck happen!

Dr. Adele
Author of Skills for Success and Launch Your Career in College