Negotiating is The Way of Life
By Rhoberta Shaler, PhD
Aug 14, 2003 - 10:50:00 AM

You negotiate all day long. If you are not doing it with yourself, you're doing it with others. Sometimes, subtle, sometimes overt, negotiating happens continuously. Nothing could be simpler or broader in scope than negotiation. Every need that you want met is a potential negotiation.

And, it all depends on your desire and ability to communicate. Negotiating expert, Gerard Nierenberg, says that negotiation occurs when human beings exchange ideas for the purpose of changing their relationships. Now do you believe that you really are negotiating all day?

In my work as a mediator and negotiator, I know the value and importance of every negotiated solution satisfying some of the needs of both parties. Although it sometimes appears that one side is a clear winner and the other a loser, those situations seldom stay 'settled' I'll bet that has been your experience. Every solution must have a 'win' in it for all concerned. Why? Because life goes on. The story doesn't end after the negotiation. Those who feel as though they lost completely will eventually want something from the winner and the animosity will carry through and erupt again in all likelihood.

So, how are your negotiation skills? Would you rather ride sixty miles bareback on an old mule than negotiate? Many folks behave as though they would.


You have to have some self-esteem to negotiate. You have to believe that your point, your desire or your concern is worthy of resolution. That's why it requires self-esteem. In my therapy and coaching practice, I've seen folks hurting badly in relationships or in the workplace who will not speak up. It takes two people to negotiate.

If you don't bring up your issue, you are foolish to think you will ever be free of the frustration, hurt or fear. The other party is obviously getting what they want in your silence. While you are being a doormat, they are cleaning their shoes on you. It's unlikely they are going to bring it up, right?

When the pain, hurt and frustration--the basic emotions that cause the arousal in the body known as anger-- are too much to bear, people with low self-esteem quit their jobs, leave their relationships and slip away. That's one tactic. Unfortunately, folks who do that often get a lot of mileage through telling their 'ain't it awful. S/he done me wrong' stories repeatedly.

Guess what? Every time they re-tell the story they relive the pain on the cellular level...and they stay angry! They may even use it as an excuse for their behavior now. Many people do that with stories from the past, even from their childhoods where they were not able to negotiate. It's hard to negotiate with an adult when you're seven years old!

You need healthy self-esteem to negotiate. You need to believe you deserve to be treated well and ask for what you want. You may not always get it but you are entitled to ask.


Anger is not preparation for negotiation. Never negotiate when you are angry. Your ability to reason diminishes as your anger increases. You may have noticed that you can make the greatest speech you'll ever regret when you're angry.

Preparation entails knowing what you want and why you want it AND understanding the world from the other person's point of view. Logically examine why the other person may be behaving in the ways that you want changed, or, why they want what they want from you. Remember, I said, logically. When your emotions start to rise, take a few deep breaths and come back when you can think clearly.

As Nierenberg says, negotiation is an exchange of ideas for the purpose of changing the relationships. You had better be clear about which ideas you want to exchange. And, no expletives can help!

Know what outcome would be satisfying to you. Know your absolute best outcome as well as what you could live with as an alternative to getting it all your way. Remember, you are looking for a solution that satisfies both parties so that the matter can end right here. You don't want to be back at the table, still furious, next week...or even next year!


We negotiate problems, not demands. Demands carry with them so much emotional charge that anger ensues. Remember how the body works. The angrier you get, the less blood gets to your brain and the more brain-dead you become. Opening your mouth then is extremely hazardous to your well-being!

When we come to negotiation with the most open mind we can, we may learn something. This is a good thing.

Many folks have made assumptions about the people and situations that bother them. Understanding your own assumptions and the assumptions the other party may have made is wise. You may be taking things personally that have little or nothing to do with you, too.

A couple went into a roadhouse for lunch. The waitress was slamming things on the table, sighing and making every request the couple made seem like an unreasonable demand that she should not have to deal with.

The two were shocked. They were thinking "What kind of service was this? What kind of place was this to have such a surly waitress? There'll be no tip for her. This is absolutely unacceptable. How dare she?" The assumption was that the couple was not worthy of better service or greater respect. They took it personally.

After a few minutes, another waitress approached the table and said in a quiet voice,

"Excuse your waitress. She's usually a million laughs but she's having a very difficult time. Her husband walked out yesterday and left her with four kids, no money and huge debts. Please understand."

Ooh. Different story. The couple's assumptions were wrong. It had nothing to do with them or the restaurant. It was a situation that could use a little understanding. Sure, it would have been best if the waitress had been able to keep her problems away from the table. But, the couple decided to respond to her with kindness. Their attitude changed. True, they could not get all that they wanted from the situation but their perspective had shifted. They even tipped well.

Flexibility is an essential quality to bring to life daily. Rigidity causes things to break.

Negotiation skills can be learned. When I'm giving my class, How to Negotiate Anything with Any One at Any Time, people are surprised to learn that they are indeed negotiating much of the day. Why not learn the skills that make it easiest on all concerned.

Sure, you'll run into some immovable objects in your lifetime. That's a given. You will, however, know that you were able to pose your questions, put forward your views and ask for what you need and want with competence.

Doormats get discarded once they are too dirty and worn. They are replaced. Don't be one! Learn to negotiate well.

Rhoberta Shaler, Ph.D.
(c) Copyright Rhoberta Shaler, PhD. All rights reserved worldwide. If you have an interest in taking the teleclass series on negotiating, or in bringing these skills to your workplace, contact Dr. Shaler through her website at or email her at [email protected]. Tell her you read about her at

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