Do You Know How to Push Back?

May 30, 2012
5 Min Read

I am not a good negotiator.  At all.  I have half-heartedly tried to improve over the years, but I admit it – what I need is a real kick in the pants.  That’s why I was so glad to read Selena Rezvani’s new book Pushback, which offers a solid four-step model of negotiation that’s easy to employ in our everyday work lives.  Here are some highlights:

Step One: Prepare Psychologically

Understanding our own feelings, disposition, strengths, weaknesses, and style is an often overlooked or de-emphasized part of the negotiation process but self-understanding can help you better regulate your demeanor during an actual negotiation, among other benefits. If negotiations feel confrontational or uncomfortable to you, understanding the roots of your discomfort with negotiating and pushing back can clear the fog and allow for forward movement. Having a good picture of your existing strengths and style can help you identify different strengths to build up and new styles to try on, adding to your repertoire of skills.

Step Two: Do Your Homework

People who have become particularly adept at pushing back always do their homework. They work to be the most informed and smartest in the room when it comes to the facts. You need to be able to leverage different levels of information, from data, to opinions, to the environmental and social factors, that buoy support for your cause.  This step also involves teasing out your counterpart’s motivations, temperament, and style; preparing the way for the main conversation by soliciting input from other people; crafting a compelling story out of all the data you’ve gathered; and choosing your style, time, and turf.

Step Three: Maneuver Through the Conversation

Preparing—internally and by doing your homework on your subject and your counterpart—is fine and good but you will demonstrate your true abilities when you steer your way through a real negotiation. Managing yourself in the middle of a tough conversation can be tricky but there are many effective strategies and tactics for navigating it, including the art of making concessions and the strategic use of silence.

Step Four: Follow Up

There are two kinds of follow-up practiced by the best negotiators. One is internal, involving reflection on how the conversation went: which techniques were used (on both sides of the table) and how effective they were, and what factors went into your success (or lack of success, sometimes). This kind of calm, thorough, inquisitive assessment after the fact is a powerful practice for boosting your skills.

The other kind of follow-up is really the final step in the negotiating conversation itself. Once you’ve finalized a negotiation—whether it’s a conversation with your boss about getting assigned to a plum project or advocating for a raise—it is critical to view the negotiation as incomplete and still in process. Summarizing the terms that were discussed is an underestimated step of negotiating, and it allows you to protect yourself by making clarifications as needed and minimizing misunderstandings between you and the other party.

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