3 Negotiating Techniques To Manage Your Own Assertiveness

by James McClister

Negotiations call for a certain amount of assertiveness to make sure your clients get what they deserve, but how do you when it’s enough?

One of the hallmarks of a quality negotiator, especially in regards to real estate, is an understanding of balance. One person wants one thing, the other wants another, and the trick is to find the common ground, or Goldilocks zone, in between where both parties can walk away satisfied. It’s a delicate science, and one that Columbia Business School Professor Daniel Ames believes people might be misunderstanding.

In a recent study, Ames tackles the role assertiveness plays at the negotiating table.

“Finding the middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover is a basic challenge in social life and the workplace. We’ve now found that the challenge is compounded by the fact that people often don’t know how others see their assertiveness,” Ames says. “In the language of Goldilocks, many people are serving up porridge that others see as too hot or too cold, but they mistakenly think the temperature comes across as just right—that their assertiveness is seen as appropriate. To our surprise, we also found that many people whose porridge was actually seen as just right mistakenly thought their porridge came off as too hot. That is, they were asserting themselves appropriately in the eyes of others, but they incorrectly thought they were pushing too hard.”

As a result of his work, Ames identified three strategies negotiators can use to help keep them operating within the Goldilocks zone.

1. Look for feedback – One of the most revealing conclusions of Ames’ study was that nearly half of all negotiators found it difficult to accurately gauge their own level of assertiveness. What does this tell us? Don’t always trust your sense of self-awareness. People have a plethora of tendency that keep them from accurately evaluating themselves, so whenever possible, Ames suggests negotiators look for quality, candid feedback from trusted sources.

2. Practice skepticism – It’s easy to forget you’re in a negotiation, especially when someone seems offended by something being said, like maybe your asking price is too high, but Ames warns that negotiators should approach these situations with skepticism. Feigned offense is often a part of the other party’s strategy, which is why when someone seems offended, you should always tread lightly, but probe a little to find the root of their issue. Ames points out that negotiators who’d mistakenly identified themselves as being overly aggressive are more likely to accept a less valuable deal just to smooth things over.

3. Support your assertiveness – Ames doesn’t recommend that negotiators blindly take a posture of assertiveness, but rather prepare themselves before hand to support any proposals that might be labeled as “unfair” or “outrageous.” When you have the comparables on hand, it’s easy to justify the offer as appropriate. What’s more, Ames adds, is that by doing your homework and understanding your counterpart’s point of view, you’ll be able to specifically gear your requests to be more appealing to them.

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