According to the famous song lyrics, “You can’t always get what you want.” And it’s true that unless you’re a dictator (or maybe Beyonce), your negotiations with others will generally involve some back and forth, paired with some give and take.
But you can sometimes get what you want – and how often depends on how well you can sway others in your direction. To find out the best persuasion strategies, Prevention magazine tapped professionals who are skilled at convincing people to follow their lead: lawyers, life coaches, new business owners and communication experts. Read on, and you’ll be sure to score more of what you want – or at least negotiate a better deal.
Ask, and be specific
This suggestion is so obvious that it may seem borderline insulting, but experts say not following it is the biggest obstacle to getting what you want. People often want something but either haven’t articulated it clearly enough, or at all. “You have to remind yourself that people aren’t mind readers,” says Keli L. Knight, who cofounded her own law practice in Chicago. “They are so wrapped up in themselves that others’ needs take a backseat.”
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Being a tough negotiator is part of Knight’s day-to-day responsibilities, and she is constantly asking for what she wants, for herself and for clients. Though it comes with the job, she has grown more comfortable doing it because of all the practice. “It takes confidence to be able to assert your needs, but the more you do it, the more natural it will become,” she says.
Before she heads into an important meeting, she preps with a mental outline (though you could certainly write it down if that’s helpful) and nails down her main objective. “When things aren’t clear, people are confused and less likely to say yes. Having concise points helps them understand what they are signing up for,” she says.
Help others come up with your idea
If you know you are going to be pitching a notoriously hard-to-sell person, it’s better to hold off presenting your whole package and instead open up a discussion in which you gently nudge her toward your plan. Disclaimer: This strategy is bit more involved and might take more than one session to achieve, so use it if you need to sell a big idea (say, a move across the country to a partner or a vision to implement more telecommuting at the office) or if your plan doesn’t require immediate action.
Why does this work? “When you mention a new idea to someone, their initial reaction is often a defensive one,” explains Dave Kerpen, CEO and author of “The Art of People.” “But if you help them come up with the idea, suddenly it’s not them giving you want you want, it’s them doing what they want.” In most cases, if it’s not an idea you’re trying to get credit for, but rather a personal move or relationship suggestion, so it doesn’t matter that you’re not receiving credit – in the end, you’re still getting what you want, just without the attribution. (If you’re on the other side of the conversation, here’s how to avoid being defensive.)
The best way to do this is to start the conversation by gently stating your goal, but then opening up the floor to questions and alternatives. Phrases like “What do you think about this?” or “What sorts of solutions did you have in mind?” help you get a better sense of the other person’s perspective. You can then guide the discussion down your path by replying with “What you do think about us doing X?” or “I was thinking about X, how does that sound?”
During the conversation, you also want to stay on top of validating the other person’s ideas. No need to proclaim their solutions as The Best Idea Ever, but offering positive feedback such as “I think that is a good solution” or “That is really original, I didn’t think of that” helps make them feel good and eventually become more receptive toward accepting your ideas, says Kerpen.
Watch your words
When we’re talking about what we want, it can be difficult to keep ourselves out of it – it is what we want after all. But sometimes what we say may not even be heard if we are unintentionally offending the other person with our word choices.
“Communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is super important in any conversation,” says Emma Seppala, a Stanford psychologist and the author of “The Happiness Track.” “But especially when you want others to be on board with your suggestions, you have to avoid things that will make them defensive, because they will be less likely to agree with you.”
A really easy and effective fix is to swap “I” or “we” for “you” – instead of “You need to stick to your share of housework,” try “I would like to change how we divide chores.” The first comes off as a personal attack, whereas the latter offers a solution that two people can discuss and come up with.
Seppala adds that phrasing things objectively is also useful since it doesn’t imply that the other person has any shortcomings. Describe the situation instead of evaluating it, and don’t place blame. So instead of “Because you haven’t pulled your weight, we are going to be late with this project due tomorrow,” try “The project is due tomorrow, it looks like we are running behind, and I was hoping we could find a way to divide the workload in a fair way.”
Everybody listens. But not everybody is an active listener. Studies from the University of Minnesota have found that within eight hours, we forget up to a third of what we’ve heard. After two months, we have lost 75 percent of that information – it basically went in one ear, and out the other.
“People think they are listening, but what they really are doing is waiting for their turn to say something,” says Kerpen. “If you’re just waiting to make your case, you could be disregarding important information that could help you further your idea, such as any concerns or questions the person you are speaking to has, that if you listened closely, you could address or dispel.”
Good listening is like meditation – you really need to tune out other thoughts and be present with the other person. How to do this in today’s distracting world? First, ditch the smartphone, since it’s almost impossible to focus if you’re distracted by incoming text messages or emails, says Kerpen. Once you’re tech-free, home in on the person’s face – no need to stare, but just use it as a focal point – so your wandering eyes don’t pick up something more interesting in the environment. Also, try giving a recap of the speaker’s perspective every few exchanges to make sure you’re getting the message. Once you have, then you can continue with a response.
Ask for help
For some reason, people have a hard time asking for backup. But every expert in this story has confirmed that soliciting help is really no big deal – it won’t make you look bad, stupid or incompetent (common concerns), and it can help you get what you want.
“Admitting that you need help doesn’t make you weak – it makes you human,” says Erin Bried, an entrepreneur who recently launched a print magazine for young girls, called Kazoo. “And that’s not actually a scary thing to admit at all, because guess what? Everyone already knows it.”
Bried had wanted to move forward with her dream of starting a magazine, but she needed financial aid. After sitting down and cranking out personal emails to her network (no mass emails, she cautions), Bried was amazed at the generosity she received – all she had to do was ask. Thousands of people contributed to her Kickstarter campaign, 98 percent of whom she didn’t know personally.
Research from Stanford University found that we seriously underestimate how much people are willing to help us. In one study, participants were instructed to ask strangers to use their cellphone after estimating how many people they felt would deny their requests. Scientists found that participants thought they would need to ask twice as many people before getting a cell to use. In other words, ask and you shall receive.
Keep relationships a priority
It’s not news that we need others to support or vouch for our ideas, especially when they will impact more than one person, like a family or a team at the office. “You could be the smartest, most hard-working person, but if you’re working alone in a corner and not getting to know your coworkers, boss, upper management or even your acquaintances or relatives, when it comes time to push an idea, you’re going to have a hard time,” says Lauren Zander, a mediator and corporate and private life coach who has worked with top companies like New York Times and LinkedIn. “It’s absolutely true that people are more trusting of the individuals they know on a deeper level – I don’t care how good your idea or proposal is.”
Been a little reserved at the office or skipping happy hour with community board members? Zander has a foolproof way to make up for it: Ask questions. “You should be curious about those around you, and you can start with the most mundane details,” she says. Ask about where they live, what they like to do on weekends, if they are into the latest shows on Netflix. Once you’re comfortable and have built rapport, suggest a lunch or grab a mid-afternoon coffee. “People are always going to go for the happiest person in the room, and that person gets there by being interested in and caring about other people,” she says.