Whether you’re interviewing for a job, pitching an idea to a client, or asking your boss for a raise, honing your negotiation skills is a worthwhile endeavor.

Negotiation is, by nature, chaotic, as you don’t know the desired outcome of those seated across the table. That said, there are things you can do to improve your odds of getting what you want.

Harvard Business School Online Professor Mike Wheeler teaches Negotiation Mastery, and is our go-to expert on getting your way. In his book, The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World, Wheeler says to expect the unexpected.

Here are some other negotiation tactics to try the next time you're at the bargaining table.

Negotiation Tactics That Actually Work

1. Keep an Open Mind


Attitude is everything in a negotiation. It’s important to go in with an open mind and be prepared to improvise. In his book, Wheeler says, “Adaptability is imperative in negotiation from start to finish. Opportunities will pop up. So will obstacles. Power ebbs and flows. Talks that crawl along can race forward or veer off in another direction. Even our own objectives may evolve. We have to make the best of whatever unfolds.”

In a negotiation, patience and an open mind will prevail.

2. Show Your Cards


People may think “holding your cards close to the vest,” or not giving away your agenda, is wise in a negotiation, but Wheeler encourages the opposite. He suggests stating what you want because it can improve the opportunity for both sides.

“By laying your cards on the table, you can expand the pie by making mutually beneficial trades,” Wheeler writes.

Related: What Not to Do in a Negotiation

3. Set and Stretch Your Goal


As in most things, preparation is paramount. Wheeler recommends going to the bargaining table with a clear goal. Write it down and commit it to memory. He then suggests setting a stretch goal and making that your starting point.

You should also determine the fallback, or bare minimum, you’ll accept. You may go in asking for the moon, but be sure you know when to walk away.

4. Turn Anxiety into Excitement


Approaching a negotiation can cause blood pressure to soar, but keeping your cool is key. Research by HBS Assistant Professor Alison Wood-Brooks can help people manage natural anxiety.

"Try your utmost to avoid feeling anxious while negotiating,” she writes in the Harvard Business Review. “How can you manage that? Train, practice, rehearse, and keep sharpening your negotiating skills. Anxiety is often a response to novel stimuli, so the more familiar the stimuli, the more comfortable and the less anxious you will feel.”

Wood-Brooks advises how to turn jitters into opportunity. In an interview with The Atlantic, she described research where she and her colleagues gave participants a difficult assignment: to sing Journey's “Don’t Stop Believin’” in front of a group. Before they sang, participants were told to either say, “I’m nervous” or “I’m excited.” The results showed the “excited” participants actually felt more comfortable. Even more surprising, it seemed to improve their singing.

While doing karaoke in a crowded bar isn't required, framing your anxiety as excitement may help you maintain your composure.

Negotiation Mastery - Get your free salary negotiation tool. Learn more.

5. Project Power


How you carry yourself is critical in deal-making. You should be sure your body language projects confidence and power.

Joe Navarro, former special agent with the FBI and author of Louder Than Words: Take Your Career from Average to Exceptional with the Hidden Power of Nonverbal Intelligence, is an expert in how body language can propel your career. In a Forbes article, Navarro shared this tip: “Stand with your head slightly tilted and your hands clasped, and with a smile and a gaze that meets the other person’s. The head tilt exposes the neck and says, ‘I am listening, I am comfortable, I am receptive.’ By contrast, if you touch your neck or cover the dimple at the base of it, you’re saying you are uncomfortable, insecure, or concerned.”

By paying attention to your facial expressions, eye contact, posture, and even hand gestures, you can heighten your chances for success.

6. Take a Timeout


Knowing when to take a break can be a powerful tool. Not only will it give you time to collect yourself, but it can disarm your “opponent.” This technique is often used by athletes when things aren’t going their way.

“It works like a reset button,” Wheeler says in his book, “interrupting whatever dysfunctional pattern has emerged. Remember to take a break before you actually need it, so that you’re constantly performing at the highest level.”

Related: 6 Tips to Prepare for Your Next Salary Negotiation

7. Silence Can Be Golden


If you can’t physically leave the room, at least take deep breaths. Pausing can even be a great way to get what you want. It gives you time to absorb, digest, and carefully consider your response, but might also create discomfort on the other side, which could lead to a better deal. 

HBS Online’s short lesson on salary negotiation offers a great example of how silence by former NHL player Derek Sanderson led to a huge salary windfall.

Negotiating Your Next Deal

Negotiations are complex, with many factors contributing to the outcome. What defines success is up to the participants, but preparation, patience, and poise can help ensure a positive outcome.

Do you want to further hone your bargaining skills? Take our new, 15-minute salary negotiation lesson and discover how you can be a more effective dealmaker.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.