Life is full of negotiations.   Every time you get a new project, you have a chance to negotiate the deadline, deliverables, and priority for this task relative to existing tasks.  Negotiating is really a balancing act with multiple interdependent variables – not only what each party wants and is willing to give, but the relative importance of each role individual’s play.

By preparing ahead of time, you can put yourself in the best possible position, and make the most of your negotiations.


Identify the entire range of possible answers, then determine where in that range you prefer to be, and what is the least you are willing to accept. Find out as much as possible about what the other party wants, needs, and will accept.

Remember that people’s desire to get something new is usually less powerful than their desire to not lose something they already have (psychologists call this loss aversion).  The desire to avoid a loss causes many people to take suboptimal deals, just to keep something that they currently have, even when they don’t really want it that much.  If you find yourself balking at the thought of giving something up, take a step back and make sure it’s something you really need.

When you do give up something, make sure you get something in return.  The other side will place more value on what they got, thus strengthening your position.



Listening is not waiting to talk.  Really listen to what the other person is saying, and paraphrase it back to them if necessary.  Once you’re sure you understand their point; then frame your response.  Ask open-ended questions, to get the other party to talk about what they want, and you’ll find out which items they really care about, and where they are more willing to concede.

When it’s your turn to talk, make sure to include reasons for your requests.  Simply adding why you need something has been shown to make people more likely to acquiesce to your request.


Look for the Win-Win

If each party gets to win on the term they feel is most important, everyone will go away happy.  Try to find ways to bring more into the negotiation, so everyone can have a win somewhere.  Maybe you can offer something they didn’t think of, or can set things up so they get something in the near future.

Acknowledge Obstacles

When the other party tells you why they can’t do something, accept the fact, but look for other ways to achieve the same goal.  If they don’t have the authority to make a particular decision, suggest they involve the person who does.  If they don’t have the budget for what you need now, suggest installment payments.

Be Patient

Sometimes you reach an impasse and can’t see a solution.  Pausing the discussion may give you time to come up with a solution. Can you think about it overnight, or research some other options?


Negotiations do not have to be adversarial.  By using the simple tips outlined here, you can make sure that everyone, including you, walks away happy.

Get involved in the discussion

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (—brought to you by ACS Careers.

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