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How to negotiate in a gray world

The real world isn't black-and-white, meaning that negotiation skills are critical to success, especially in the workplace. Here are five keys to effective negotiating.

Over the years, I've noticed something lots of techies have in common--they like things to be black-and-white. Sorry if that offends you, but in my experience, it's true.

Unfortunately, the real world is gray. Like it or not, living and thriving in a gray world, especially a gray workplace, involves negotiating. None of us are born with negotiating skills. We have to learn them. This will help.

Here are five things you need to know to negotiate effectively. They'll help you in all your work-related relationships - with peers, managers, subordinates, customers, vendors, everyone. They'll help you to negotiate better compensation packages, promotions, and even exit packages.

Who knows, they may even help to improve your personal and personal business relationships. After all, so much of family and business life involves negotiating.

How do I know this stuff? Let's see, 25+ years in high-tech - 10 of them in executive management and 14 in sales and marketing - 18 years of marriage, 51 years of life ... you get the picture. I've spent decades learning and honing negotiating skills.

Five keys to effective negotiating
Study precedent. Much of negotiating is about precedent, i.e. if they did it before, they can do it again. Think things through and gather data on precedent from similar situations. Based on that, determine your bottom line (what you must have) and what you'd like to have but are willing to negotiate. Start from the latter, give yourself wiggle room, and never give without getting something in return.

Support your terms with backup. Always state your case and explain why you deserve what you're asking for, why it makes sense. Site precedence for credibility. After receiving a counteroffer, and before you respond with your own, state your case again, term by term, emphasizing the points where the counteroffer fell short of your bottom line.

Never negotiate with yourself. After you've stated what you want and explained why it makes sense, be quiet and wait for the opposing party's counter-offer. Make sure they've responded fully on every term before you counter. That way you'll have time to think and prepare your response. For example, if they hold firm on one term, then it's reasonable to ask for more on another.

Take the emotion out. Never negotiate in an emotional or agitated state. If it's something you feel strongly about - as is often the case - you'll have to find a way to diffuse your emotion. You don't want it clouding your judgment or biasing your opponent against you. Try to get to the bottom of why you feel the way you do and put things in perspective before entering into negotiations. Better to push things out a day or two than to come in agitated and unprepared.

Be honest and respectful. If you're not honest about your requests you risk losing your credibility, and that's really bad in negotiations. Sure, you can stretch or spin things a bit, but don't cross a line you're uncomfortable crossing. You'll be nervous and it'll show. Respect the opposing party. I don't care what some of the books say, a win-win is the best outcome.

Bottom line
Negotiations are hairy and scary for everybody, even experienced professionals. No kidding. But just like anything in life, with knowledge and practice comes confidence, skill and ultimately, success. Good luck.