Negotiating Isn’t Just For “The Donald”

One of the organizers of Reaching Forward, Illinois’ annual conference for library support staff, recently commented that they wanted to offer a negotiating skills workshop this year. It sounded promising to me and I offered to look into it. While I had thought that my communication skills were at least “above average,” as I researched the fine art of effective negotiations I quickly realized how many opportunities each of us walk away from on a daily basis!

It certainly seems that the old adage “everything is negotiable” is true. All of us who work with other people must be adept at negotiating. If you need to get something done with another person, you rarely order them to do it…you negotiate! Reaching agreements is not the sole responsibility of management. Negotiating skills are crucial for anyone who works in teams, with other departments, and with patrons.

There are tons of resources on the web for learning negotiating skills. There is even a company that claims its software will develop the appropriate statements, questions and actions that will result in negotiating success. The company, WinSquared (www.winxwin.com), promotes their database of 600 “techniques” … you can even choose from nine levels of assertiveness that you want to exhibit!

All of this tells me that there are lots of us out there looking for help when it comes to having the confidence and strategies for effectively negotiating the small and large agreements throughout our day.

The obvious time when most of us use our negotiating skills is when we are accepting a new position. We often negotiate (or attempt to) our salary, benefits, flexibility, etc. But our lives change over time and what was once a flexible work situation can, at a different time, become an unmanageable schedule. Why do we often find it so hard to open up negotiating talks again?

The authors of The Shadow Negotiation: How Women Can Master the Hidden Agendas That Determine Bargaining Success, Deborah M. Kolb, Carol Frohlinger, and Judith Williams, have identified a “shadow” part of the negotiation process that can keep us from being successful. Their Web site (www.shadownegotation.com) talks about how sometimes our attitudes about ourselves and the negotiation process can limit our chances. Such things as lack of experience in negotiations, dislike or discomfort with confrontation or a desire to be liked, can keep us from setting our sites higher.

Their book, named to Harvard Business Review’s list of the top-ten business books in 2001, emphasizes that “the best outcomes happen when negotiations are approached not as adversarial win/lose situations, but as opportunities to develop an exchange that make mutual gains possible.”

While much of their research and work focuses on women, their strategies are effective for anyone who needs to be able to negotiate. Which is all of us all the time.

There are many books and articles on negotiating skills. I have provided just a few at the end of this article, but I think an easy “beginner” resource is Ten Minute Guide to Negotiating. One tip that got me on the negotiating track was … never be afraid to ask. Let the other side say “no” for themselves. But when you ask for something, be prepared to give up something in return.

The author, Neil Shister, continues by talking about the “Negotiating Journey” …

  • First you are in the information-gathering phase. You are learning all you can about the situation, your options and your fellow negotiator.
  • Second is the issue resolution phase. When each side offers their expectations and poses their initial responses. Talk to clarify and listen to understand the other perspective.
  • Finally, you hit the decision making phase. This requires give and take.with the goal being a win-win agreement

The key is not to walk away from a situation because you are avoiding confrontation. Negotiating is not confrontation. It is a communication process that is intended to leave everyone a winner!

  • Ten Minute Guide to Negotiating
    Neil Shister

  • The Shadow Negotiation: How Women Can Master the Hidden Agendas That Determine Bargaining Success
    Deborah M. Kolb, Carol Frohlinger, and Judith Williams

  • Win Win Career Negotiations
    Peter J. Goodman

  • The Good Girl’s Guide to Negotiating
    Leslie Whitaker and Elizabeth Austin


Valerie Stern is PR and Volunteer Coordinator at Ela Area Public Library. She can be reached atvstern@eapl.org.

Vicki Burger is the Administration/HR Manager at Ela Area Public Library, Lake Zurich, IL. She can be reached at vburger@eapl.org.