How to Negotiate Like You've Got Nothing to Lose

Negotiation asks you to price your worth, lest the world price (and undervalue) it for you. Here's how to negotiate—for a job, time off, a lower rate from a contractor, you name it—with all your cards on the table.

how-to-negotiate: dollar bills shaking hands
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Negotiation seems almost designed to bring out our most anxious selves—the greedy gremlin who asks for too much, the guilty party for asking for anything at all, the shamed and scorned for not asking enough. (Seriously, for women and minorities, it's a no-win situation.) If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you're not just negotiating with another party, you're negotiating with yourself about your own worth, monetary and non-monetary (your time, your energy, your hard-earned expertise). Negotiation asks you to price this worth lest the world price it—and undervalue it—for you.

A common refrain and misconception is that good negotiation is all a confidence game, and those who don't do it well just need a shot of self-esteem. Another common misconception is that women and BIPOC candidates are less likely to negotiate. But research shows that while we do ask, we do not get. (Or worse, we ask the "right" way and still do not get.) So why don't we shift our mindset? Let's negotiate like we have nothing to lose. Here are some tips to make it happen.

01 of 05

Practice low-stakes negotiation before graduating to higher stakes.

Look for opportunities to negotiate even when you have nothing at stake or you are almost certain the answer will be no. Call up your credit card company and ask for lower interest rates. Ask for a higher spending limit. Call your internet provider and ask for the lower price you could be getting at XYZ company. The worst that could happen is that they'll say no. The more you hear no, the less it stings. The less it stings, the easier it is to ask. The more you ask, the more your negotiating muscle grows.

02 of 05

Recognize negotiation anxiety as just that—anxiety.

Whether it's the possibility of hearing no, the fear of what the other party will think, or someone else's judgment of your personal worth, negotiation can trigger our fight/flight reactions fast. Time for a favorite piece of therapeutic advice: rewrite the story. Often, anxiety reactions are bound up in past stories others have told us or that we've told ourselves. We don't deserve what we want, we haven't worked hard enough, women don't negotiate, etc. Reframe the narratives from the jump and tell yourself the new story again and again. Move the mental ball into your own personal court. Taking control of your own narrative limits anxiety and opens you up for discussion and possibility.

03 of 05

Think sustainability, not competition.

Contrary to popular opinion, negotiation isn't about "winning." It's about creating sustainability for both parties. Employers retain great employees by making sure their employees feel valued and compensated. A service provider wants to retain long-term customers and long-term customers need reasons to remain loyal. Ask yourself: What would create the most sustainable situation for you and the party with whom you are negotiating?

Always be on the lookout for when a situation is becoming unsustainable and why. Thinking of negotiation purely in terms of "winning" means that the game is over when the negotiation ends—regardless of what was agreed on. By remaining in conversation, the door is always open to negotiate change.

04 of 05

Negotiate on behalf of someone else.

Research shows that women tend to negotiate more aggressively and fearlessly when it is on the behalf of someone else, not themselves. This is due to the "social cost" of negotiation, felt more keenly by women than men. (In other words, for women, it does sometimes hurt to ask.) We all know this old story—women in public positions are historically looked on favorably—until they show their personal ambition. While patriarchal double standards must continue to be fought at every turn, try this simple shift in your mind if you're not feeling very bold at the negotiating table: Negotiate on behalf of someone else. (This is also known as using a "relational account" in negotiating.)

Maybe you need a better salary so you can save for your child's education. Maybe you need flexible work hours so you can care for a loved one who needs help. Try even thinking of yourself in the third person—of course, you would go to bat for your best friend. What if that best friend were you?

05 of 05

Know your whole worth—not just your monetary worth.

We often think of negotiation purely in terms of money. We want raises, better rates, and lower prices. But negotiation requires thinking beyond just money. Ask yourself: What is the cost of your time? How long did it take you to earn your expertise that you are now in a position to leverage? What boundaries do you refuse to budge?

A raise may be nice—but flexible hours that allow you to walk your child home from school may be better. You might like a new job—but you don't want any job that requires a commute. Maybe you want policy change—more diversity in administration, more paths to promotion. Make a list of your non-negotiables, your flexibilities, and your big wants, and consider what these may be for the other party as well. What is non-negotiable for you might be a place of flexibility for them. Disarm your negotiator with your unexpected ask—you may get exactly what you want.

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  1. Industrial Relations. Do Women Ask? Accessed Dec. 13, 2022.

  2. Mazei J, Hüffmeier J, Freund PA, et al. A meta-analysis on gender differences in negotiation outcomes and their moderatorsPsychol Bull. 2015;141(1):85-104. doi:10.1037/a0038184

  3. White LC, Pothos EM, Busemeyer JR. Sometimes it does hurt to ask: the constructive role of articulating impressions. Cognition. 2014;133(1):48-64. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2014.05.015

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