This article was originally published by Forbes.
When negotiating at work, it helps to practice. You don’t want the first time you say the words out loud to be in a high stakes meeting with your counterpart. If you haven’t prepared, you run a high risk of negotiation word vomit. Role play with a trusted friend, partner, or advisor to help you find language that is comfortable, authentic – and will make your case more convincing.
There are four types of practice negotiations to try with your role play buddy, each of which will help you ace the real deal.
A. Silly to Serious
Even in a role play, it can be paralyzing trying to come up with the perfect response. I encourage clients to kick off the practice session with a silly, over the top exchange to get some of that discomfort out of the way. For this exercise, let’s assume I’m negotiating to increase my speaker fee.
I’d tell my role play buddy, “My fee is one million dollars, and I will only provide keynotes on Tuesdays to audiences comprised exclusively of left handed people.” My role play buddy and I would go back and forth with this silliness for a bit, increasing the ridiculousness to just let loose.
When I used to teach sex ed to middle schoolers, they’d get giggly and wiggly when they were uncomfortable, often telling me “I feel weird.” I’d let them be squeamish for a moment and then I’d say, “Silly to…” and they’d say, “Serious!” and get settled back into learning mode.
This approach works for adults, too. Follow the lead of my 5th graders: get the silly out of the way so you can get back to business.
B. Nightmare Scenario
After you’ve gotten the giggles out, talk with your role play buddy about your biggest fears and worst case scenario. As scary as it might be, act it out.
One of my biggest fears when I talk about pricing is that my counterpart will think I’m selfish, greedy, or entitled. In this role play, I’d say my price, and my buddy could reply incredulously, “What makes you think you’re worth that? Are you crazy? I can’t possibly consider that price or even take you seriously now that you’ve suggested it.” (Oof! It’s even painful to write.) Then, I’d have to think on my feet and respond in real time.
Or perhaps you’re afraid that you’ll forget all of your market research and just word vomit all of your insecurities. Try that route in your role play too.
Once you’ve gotten that disastrous exchange out of the way, you’ll see how unlikely it actually is...and if by some crazy fluke it happened, that you’ll know that you would survive.
Now, anything that happens in your actual negotiation, no matter how bad, will likely be an improvement. It’ll free you up to come up with language that feels right through trial and error.
C. Realistic Scenario
Once you’ve tried a silly version and a horrifying one, approach the conversation in the same way you would like to in real life. I recommend trying a few rounds of this to get comfortable with your language and to practice adapting to the various directions the conversations could go. Encourage your role play buddy to ask new questions each time so you’re forced to listen and think on your feet rather than just repeating a script.
My role play buddy might ask me, “Is there any flexibility in that price,” and I have to figure out how I’ll respond. In my initial exchanges it might sound something like, “Ummm, what? Errr. Sure...ok. Maybe this price-ish? Would that be ok?” It’s better to knock that awkwardness out in the role play than in real life.
Keep practicing until your responses feel organic and conversational, and don’t forget to take breaks as needed.
D. As Your Counterpart
Finally, hit the reset button. Ask your role play buddy to pretend to be you so that you can imagine the situation from the side of your counterpart. What questions would they have? What would they want to know or be reluctant about?
You might realize their priorities by engaging in the conversation from their vantage point. For example, when I talk with conference planners their priorities are often “heads in beds and butts in seats.” That could lead me to the question, “We prioritize engaging with the audience before the event to generate excitement and encourage people to invite their colleagues. Is social media engagement prior to the event something you’d be open to including in your fee?”
This perspective can be invaluable.
The above strategies can help you practice in a strategic way. Just hearing the words come out of your mouth can help you be more confident when it matters. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it definitely helps.