Negotiating a higher salary or a disagreement among friends makes all of us squirm to some extent — even if you’re able to put on a brave face and stand your ground. But for introverts, it can be especially paralyzing.
As an introvert myself, I’ve never understood how some people are excited by the prospect of negotiation, feeling my stomach turn into knots at the mere thought of sitting across from someone (be it a boss, friend or significant other), talking points in hand.
Beyond the chess-like back and forth of throwing out an offer, debilitating silence, and push-back from the other party that zaps my energy, I’ve also never been good at overcoming the initial mental roadblock of speaking up and asking for what I deserve — or not running in the other direction at the first sign of conflict.
Turns out I’m not alone.
Shannon Kalberg, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Los Angeles, CA and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University, says that negotiations in general can be scary because it requires mastering the art of compromise and trying to settle a difference of opinions.
“Many times as introverts, it is hard enough to venture out of our comfort zones let alone navigate the multiple angles of a negotiation which can include emotional communication, confrontation or thinking of new ideas,” says Kalberg.
Over the years, my introverted ways juxtaposed with my intense anxiety over potential confrontation, has cost me thousands of dollars in raises I never got because I didn’t ask, a couple of apartments (that kicked me out when they raised the rent and I didn’t negotiate a lower price), and a few relationships where I let it be my way or the highway (instead of compromising and meeting in the middle.)
Realizing everything that I’ve lost because I have failed to master the art of negotiation (or at the very least, become more comfortable with it) was an “ah-ha” moment of sorts. One which led me down a path to finding tactics that could help me overcome my fear of negotiation — and hopefully learn to speak up and get what I want.
Over the last few months, I’ve tried four different techniques that professionals claim work well for those who are more introverted, in situations when the need to negotiate came up in my day-to-day interactions. Here’s what happened:
Advice: Over prepare yourself
I recently found myself in charge of helping plan a friend’s bachelorette party. The bride wanted her crew of five bridesmaids to pay for the entire bachelorette party weekend (in an international locale). There were a couple of things I wanted to negotiate with her. First, the bridesmaids would not pay for everything, just travel and accommodations. Everything else, once at the location, would be paid for individually, including the bride. Second, to keep the trip as local as possible to reduce cost. The bride had a Type-A and aggressive personality, so the idea of entering negotiations with her was quite frightening. When the conversation came up in the past, I usually backed down and just agreed to whatever was asked of me.
That’s why I turned to advice from Jason Patel, former career ambassador at George Washington University and the founder of Transizion, a college and career prep company. He said that before you enter any negotiation, you need to do your homework.
“There's no excuse for not having done research, especially if you know when the negotiation is taking place,” says Patel. “That's why you want to know the terms of negotiation, assets that are being negotiated, and other aspects of the negotiation process before you dive in.”
When it comes to being introverted, Patel says that substantial research can be a secret weapon. “Performing research is a great tip for introverts because you get to embrace the quiet side of your life, sit alone, and comb through the Internet to find out more about the negotiation that you're about to engage in,” he says. And when you feel put on the spot or challenged, you’ll have facts to fall back on.
I used Patel’s advice: I created an excel spreadsheet to lay out international destinations and the cost (over $1,500 per person based on the bride’s expectations) and then picked some locations on the East Coast and showed how we could save each person close to $1,000 and still give the bride the kind of celebration she desired. This research helped me enter into the conversation with facts, and allowed me to be more proactive in the conversation, while still being positive, presenting all of possibilities of extra things we could afford to do if we stayed more local. We compromised on Miami and the final cost per person was $675, including the cost for the bride to fly, stay, eat and play.
Advice: Get comfortable with silence
I laid eyes on a vintage leather purse that I had to have at a local flea market in Brooklyn. The price was $175, which was way above my budget. I knew that I would either have to put the bag down and walk away or open my mouth and throw out a counter offer.
Get the better newsletter.
I pulled out my phone and did some research (tactic #1 coming to the rescue again!) and found similar bags that were $75-$125. I’ve heard negotiation tips before that encourage you to throw out a very low offer first, but I didn’t feel comfortable playing that game because it required a lot of back and forth. Instead, I leaned on advice from Patel: Once you make an offer or counter-offer, be quiet. Don't say a word.
With a trembling voice, I approached the counter. “How about $125?” I said, clutching the bag.
Patel encouraged me to become comfortable with the silence, because trying to fill the space by explaining your position after stating it often makes you look less confident, and your argument or statement, less effective.
“This tip is good for introverts because it embraces your quiet side. You don't need to speak or get further involved with the back and forth once you state your offer or counter-offer. Quite literally, I'm telling you to be quiet and embrace the silence,” says Patel.
He also says to be as concise as possible when you do speak. “Speak more by using fewer words in your speech. This adds value to what you say, which convinces others to pay close attention to your words,” he says. “Also, aim to be concise in your writing and words: the less you say, the more powerful your words become. Generally, ask yourself whether what you're about to say can be spoken in fewer words; if so, think about how you can be as precise as possible in your speech.”
I let the silence linger for five seconds, fighting the urge to say something like, “Sorry, how about $150?” or “I’ll just pay full price.”
Finally the person behind the counter examined the purse, and said, “I’ll take $130." Five dollars more than what I wanted to pay but a whole lot less than I would have paid when I avoided negotiation like the plague. I walked out with the cool leather vintage purse and $45 more in my wallet.
Advice: Ask open-ended questions
It may sound silly, but the truth is, we negotiate in little ways every single day. One way I do, almost daily, is when it comes to dinner. When making plans with my boyfriend, I usually either demand we go out in search of the best slice of pizza or give in when he suggests we go eat a cuisine that I don’t prefer at all.
When this situation came up yet again, I decided to try a technique that Dr. Miles Maftean, a career expert who focuses on the intersection of psychology and the workplace, suggested: use the positives of being an introvert to my advantage.
“Channel the inner introvert. You’re insightful and you can listen intently to answers,” says Dr. Maftean. “This may be the most important tool you have for negotiating. It allows you to know where the other party stands, what they want, and how you can steer them in a way to get them on your side of the bargaining yard.”
Dr. Maftean suggests shifting the discussion by asking questions like, “what do you think about proceeding this way?”, as opposed to “I think it should be done this way”.
Taking his advice, I threw out questions like “what do you think about going to an area with two takeout spots that we can both grab food from?” The question was met with agreement (which I have a feeling wouldn’t have come as easily had I demanded we head to a certain neighborhood with more options).That lead to us both getting the dinner we wanted without hurt feelings, intense negotiation, or even one person feeling like they “lost”.
Advice: Repress your emotions, but not your confidence
I was in talks with a company who wanted to hire me for a speaking event. Since the pay range for an event like this can vary quite a bit, I decided to ask for what I’ve received in the past for a two-hour speaking gig. When I sent the proposal, the company replied asking if I could do it for free.
My blood boiled, mostly because I had spent so much time on the proposal and also because I have a long list of speaking credentials and the request to speak for free is a big blow to my ego (and of course my bank account).
That’s where Christine Scott-Hudson, a psychotherapist, was able to help. She encourages people to make sure that their emotions are regulated before they step into negotiation.
“Make sure you are contained. If the discussion brings up intense emotions, it may derail your best intentions,” says Scott-Hudson. “Take a break to compose yourself, if need be. Stay respectful. Even if the other person responds with anger or defensiveness, don’t allow yourself to become so flooded with emotional intensity that your entire message gets overshadowed and lost.”
Scott-Hudson says getting caught up in your own emotional dysregulation can do you a major disservice. “Do not sabotage your request with your own lack of containment, or else you will probably not get what you are hoping for,” she says. “If you get triggered, practice mindful breathing, such as a 4-7-8 breath (inhale 4 counts, hold it for 7 counts, exhale for 8 counts, and repeat). Stay focused on the end-game.”
I did my research, asked open-ended questions to get a better sense of if they had any budget to work with at all, and came forward with a counter offer.
I also used another tip from Scott-Hudson, which is to remain confident (or fake it when self-doubt starts to creep in).
“If you act uncertain and afraid that the other person won't comply with your request, they are likely to pick up on your uncertainty and you may create the worry you are defending against,” says Scott-Hudson. “Act as if you are confident, worthy of respect, and deserving of getting what you have requested. When you honor your own needs, others are more likely to, as well.”
I responded, reminding the company of my resume of accomplishments, my knowledge on the topic, and my speaking credentials, and proposed to do the two-hour talk for a specific price, and additionally, have the opportunity to sell my book to their audience to make up for the lack of full-payment. Selling books is something they would usually say "no" to, but in the end, they agreed to pay me a fee and let me sell my books.
Am I comfortable with negotiating after putting these tips to the test? Not entirely. But with these rules, I have strategies that leave me less anxious and more assertive — and ensure I walk away with what I want (most of the time, at least).
More from BETTER
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.