What to Bring to the Negotiation Table: Tips and Tactics from Harvard Professor Rachel Krol

Rachel earned her B.A. in History from Columbia University and her J.D. from Harvard Law School. While well versed inside the classroom, Rachel became an expert on negotiations through experiential learning. She has taught negotiation skills to students in Jerusalem, worked with clients in New Hampshire’s state court system, and held interactive negotiations workshops at high schools throughout the Northeast. Now, Rachel is sharing her knowledge so you can be an expert negotiator too.

Tip #1: Practice Makes Perfect

Rachel believes that the best way to build your negotiation skills is through practice. She recommends finding a course in school or attending workshops in a low-risk environment, so that you will be more prepared and confident when the stakes are higher. Additionally, mock negotiations will give you the freedom to make mistakes, but more importantly the opportunity to learn. You can reflect on your greatest strengths and recognize what negotiation style you should be using in the given situation. Rachel stated, “You might come to learn that you are a good communicator, but not the best listener. Or it might be easier for you to negotiate with relatives rather than strangers.” Once you engage in practice and self-reflection, you can become a strong negotiator.

Tip #2: Shift Your Perspective

Before you enter a negotiation, Rachel encourages you “to prep and know your substance,” yet she thinks it is equally important to consider your counterpart. According to Rachel, “You have to view yourself in the shoes of the other person you are negotiating with. Do your research to learn about who they are and what they do. Try to figure out how they would react to the points that you plan to bring up. What would their questions be?” By imagining how a negotiation will play out, you can prepare responses to anticipated concerns. One way to do this is by using numbers. Rachel claimed, “If you can find data to prove your points, you can make your argument stronger by giving the opposite party a clearer look at your position.” It is through this proactivity that you are more likely to achieve your intended goals.

Tip #3: Questions Are Key

Rachel explained, “Interests are the goals, priorities, hopes, and emotions that motivate people to negotiate, so it is critical to look behind a position and a demand and ask ‘why?’ For example, if there is a job that needs 3-5 years of experience but you have less, ask why it is important to have those number of years of experience. Maybe you have other experiences that you can tell the employer that match those 3-5 years.” By simply asking “why” you can shift a negotiation’s outcome; however, Rachel does not want you to limit yourself to one “why” question. She suggests you ask “good, thoughtful questions for approximately 70% of the conversation.” Negotiators who ask the most effective questions are able to reach more favorable outcomes.

Whether you are trying to reach a compromise with a friend or asking your boss for a raise, you can use Rachel’s advice to walk away from the negotiation table as a winner!

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