There’s one commonality that all effective negotiators share: they consciously make the decision to negotiate in their daily lives. It may sound simple, but deciding to negotiate in real-life situations demands stepping out of your comfort zone. In reality, it’s uncomfortable. When you decide to negotiate, you risk feeling weird or awkward, regardless of your age, intelligence, or experience level. Choosing to negotiate also means deciding to be present, to focus your attention, and to engage with your environment and your counterpart in a more deliberate way—all of which can be hard to muster if you’re tired or simply not in the mood.
If you can overcome these barriers, however, there are huge payoffs. Even if you don’t accomplish what you set out to achieve, every time you practice you sharpen the blade. You’ll learn what your strategy is missing, understand how different negotiating techniques work (or don’t work) in different situations, and figure out how to tweak your approach to best suit your natural cadence in the future. Below, we’ve listed three everyday scenarios that are prime opportunities to negotiate.
Airports are negotiation breeding grounds. Whether you’re attempting to reserve a seat next to a loved one, change your flight, speed through lines, make connections, receive a better meal, check a bag for free, locate lost luggage, upgrade to first-class—you name it, the opportunities to get more of what you want loom around every terminal.
When it comes to air travel, most of us are used to settling for less. Airport personnel are accustomed to emotionally charged confrontations, and airline travelers are used to hearing bureaucratic rejections. Most of us are aware of this dynamic, but we don’t use that information to adjust our strategy and build influence. Before you approach an airline representative, consider those unspoken expectations and use them to anticipate your counterpart’s reaction and understand their perspective. Airports are ideal settings to practice taking a cold read and conducting an accusation audit to get out ahead of negative perceptions.
Furthermore, travel is inherently stressful—not only for passengers, but for the people who must deal with the emotional side effects of those passengers on a daily basis. This hypersensitive environment presents the perfect opportunities to practice self-awareness, self-regulation, and tactical empathy when negotiating with difficult people.
2. Buying Coffee
I know what you’re thinking: you can’t just haggle for your morning coffee like you would an item at a flea market. There are rules and standards, and some things just aren’t up for negotiation.
You’re right, to an extent. It’s true that bargaining over price won’t get you far in a café, especially if you attempt to go tit for tat the way you would in a market. It’s also true that price isn’t an ideal starting point for any negotiation. Skipping right to the terms won’t help you establish trust, gain influence, or get what you want.
What’s not true is the notion that cafés—or any other retail businesses, for that matter—are impervious to negotiation. Sure, a barista might not have the direct authority to change the price of a cup of coffee, but negotiation is about navigating emotion and gaining influence. Your counterpart still possess the ability to affect a variety of terms. For example, they can give you a large for the price of a medium, give you a free baked good with your coffee, have your coffee prepared before you arrive,make your beverage in a special way that’s not on the menu, or give you decaf instead of regular, serve you an old batch or forget your 2 sugars. In short, they can influence the value you receive.
Choosing to negotiate in contexts that aren’t widely associated with negotiation demands extra courage and willpower—especially if you’re hung up on the idea that negotiations are boardroom affairs. In everyday scenarios, remember that the basis of any negotiation is effective communication, tactical empathy, and emotional intelligence—all things which are universally relevant and resonant, regardless of the situation. When you approach a negotiation from the perspective of relationship building, you’ll find that it’s much easier to make authentic connections, build trust, and influence behavior in an organic way.
3. Dealing with Family and Coworkers
If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “because I said so,” then you’ve missed out on a pivotal opportunity to get what you want. A lot of parents end up routinely battling with their kids over the same issues because they try to force a solution that their child is unwilling to implement. Negotiating with kids is a great opportunity to practice expanding the negotiating “pie” and make high value trades. Focus on creating a collaborative environment and uncovering what your child values differently than you. Although an 8:30 p.m. bedtime might be your be-all-end-all, you might learn that your seven-year-old values screen time more than staying up late. By trading ten minutes of screen time for being in bed with teeth brushed at 8:20 p.m., you’ll create a deal that’s satisfactory to both parties and more apt to stick.
In addition to negotiating with your kids, practice becoming a more effective listener and communicator with people who are sounding boards in your life. By educating them on the skills you’re trying to use, you’ll encourage them to challenge you and empower them to provide more insightful and actionable feedback.
Lastly, don’t forget about the people who you spend 40 hours a week with. Whatever your professional goals and responsibilities are, chances are you need your coworkers to do their job—or maybe something extra—so you can excel at yours. Every interaction in which you’re attempting to influence someone else’s behavior is a negotiation. Recognizing these opportunities and consciously deciding to take advantage of them is the key to continuous growth.
The best part about negotiating with coworkers and family is that you’re guaranteed unlimited chances for improvement. Maybe your first try didn’t produce the outcome you were hoping for—use that feedback to tweak your strategy next time around.
The Bottom Line
In addition to the three examples above, there are countless opportunities to hone your negotiating skills in your daily life. Attending lectures, seeking out professional training, and reading books and articles on negotiation will give you the foundation you need to improve, but turning that knowledge into an ability requires action. Repetition is the mother of skill.
The people who make the conscious choice to try out the skills they’ve learned and see how far they get, are also the ones that perform better in high-stakes, high-stress situations. They learn faster and internalize information more thoroughly because they’ve failed. When you screw up, your heart rate increases and activates what psychologist Daniel Kahneman refers to as “slow thinking”—the kind of thought that requires deliberate effort and step-by-step processing. It’s these high-awareness moments that accelerate learning and make information stick. In addition, practice transforms negotiating skills and techniques into second nature, which frees up your brain to be more perceptive, responsive, and flexible in the moment.