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Expert offers negotiating tips for work, home and everywhere in between

Being a good negotiator isn't a skill reserved just for corporate CEOs and United Nations diplomats. It's an everyday tool useful for all of us, whether we're asking for a raise, interviewing for a job, buying a car, deciding on family vacations, even dealing with our kids over bedtime. And most of us could be a whole lot better at it. That's the message of Michael Colatrella, an assistant professor at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law who teaches mediation and negotiation skills to lawyers ... and anybody else who wants to sharpen their techniques. At $999, his three-day Advanced Negotiation seminars aren't for every budget, but he sat down recently with McClatchy Newspapers and shared a few tips. Here's an excerpt:

Most of us aren't high-powered attorneys or corporate dealmakers. Why do we need to be good negotiators?

Negotiation is a life skill. Everyone negotiates every day: with our spouses over housework, with our bosses and colleagues over job responsibilities, with our kids over chores and homework. ...

Negotiating can be learned. It's a skill like playing the piano ... or playing a sport.

What's the essential skill in negotiating?

Setting a goal. Let's say you're buying a car. You go online, do your research, see what it's worth. You pick a number, say $24,000, and tell yourself, "If I don't go above that, I'll have a good deal." But all it really means is you haven't been taken. ...

Statistically speaking, you do better when you set optimistic but realistic goals. Some people set goals too high; some too low. Neither are good.

There's nothing more important than preparing in a systematic way. It makes it very difficult to be taken advantage of. You can't anticipate everything but you prepare as much as you can, and adjust accordingly.

How do you prepare for a negotiating session, say, asking your boss for a raise?

Whether it's a raise or a starting salary, it's important to have a number in mind. Know what your goals are: a $5,000 raise, the benefits or the vacation (weeks) you want. ... Have a picture of how you want the interview to end.

If you know what you're worth, it's to your advantage to make the opening offer. Ask for as high as you can credibly ask, based on your performance, your peers, the industry. For example, if you start at $7,000 a year and the boss had in mind offering you $2,000, then he will counter at something higher, say $3,000. When you negotiate higher, you can influence the middle. Statistically, you increase your chances of doing better.

Is being a bully or a tough guy ever appropriate? And how do you defuse a hothead in negotiations?

If you shout back, you'll incite them even more. It'll escalate. It's just like when your kids have a tantrum. If you lose your cool, it sends them into an even greater meltdown.

The better approach is to calmly point out: "I don't appreciate being shouted at. It's not going to help solve this problem. ... I know this is important to you. But if we are going to make progress, as I think we can, you will need to speak to me more respectfully."

There have been research and books contending that women don't negotiate for themselves as well as men. Do you feel that's true?

There is a gender gap. When women are negotiating for others, like at the negotiating table for their company, there's no difference in their outcomes than with men. They do well. But when it's negotiating for themselves — household chores with a spouse, job responsibilities (at work) — they often don't ask for as much as they deserve.

Is personality important in negotiating?

Personality is power. The most effective negotiators are not intimidating personalities but charming personalities. In negotiations, people feel better giving up things to people they like. (Bullies) lose more deals than they get.

How effective is knowing when to walk away?

It's very important and one of the hardest skills to learn. In America, we're so impatient. We walk away too soon ... rather than persist and push through. Every negotiation of importance will have some obstacles.

A car dealer knows that the longer you're in the showroom, the more likely you'll buy. If you've spent hours (haggling over price) you think, "If I leave now, I'll have wasted all this time. And I'll have to go do it again somewhere else." But sometimes, it's better to walk away than pay an extra $3,000 (and not get the deal you want).

In class, you talk about the need to know your personal negotiating style. Can you explain?

There are five negotiating styles: competing ("my way or the highway"); collaborating (seeking the "win-win"); compromising (expedient, but not always best deal); avoiding (sidestepping, postponing for the conflict-averse); accommodating (self-sacrificing, overly generous). None is inherently good or bad ... but it's whether you are using it in the right circumstances. We all have a default style where we're more comfortable.

If you're not concerned about the relationship, say when negotiating with a (salesman) you'll never see again, you can be more competitive. But if it's with your spouse about where to go on vacation, (a competing style) may get what you want but the long-term relationship is damaged.

How do you negotiate at home with your wife or kids?

I'm negotiating with my kids all the time. They're 3 and 9. If I'm reading a book to my 9-year-old and I'm tired, I'll say, "Let's only read two chapters tonight," knowing she'll say "No, three or four." So we compromise somewhere in the middle. ... I'm negotiating ahead of where I need to be. So far, I think I have the edge.

A bottom line?

Like the world's top poker players, negotiating is a game of chance but also a game of preparation. ... There's a very systematic way to prepare for negotiations with your boss, family member, a car salesman, a refrigerator dealer. Good negotiators don't win every time, but they win more often than everyone else.

Expert offers negotiating tips for work, home and everywhere in between 06/09/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 9, 2012 4:31am]
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