I used to let people walk all over me at work - until I learned how I could use my niceness to my advantage

I used to let people walk all over me at work - until I learned how I could use my niceness to my advantage


Strelka Institute/Flickr/Attribution License

'Niceness' can be a helpful tool in a negotiation.

  • Nice people can find it challenging to successfully negotiate a business deal.
  • For 'nice' people who tend to let others take advantage of them, it is essential to prepare for negotiations.
  • Using 'nice' qualities can actually be helpful: By behaving pleasantly and positively, your opposition is more likely to soften and follow your lead.

For us sensitive, "too-nice" types, negotiation can be a nasty word.

At least for me, it was.

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Sure I talked a good game, but when it really came down to negotiation on my own behalf for what I wanted, I possessed a terrible habit of rolling over and letting the other party win. My ears burned hot red at the hint of confrontation. Even though it was "just business," negotiation always felt personal. I didn't want to anger anyone and I believed pushing back meant I'd ruin the relationship.

But you can't go through life, letting people take advantage of you. Especially when you run your own business. As business owner and consultant, I knew I needed new tools to help me deal with the uncomfortable scenarios all business owners eventually face:


Situations like:

What to do when a client is late on payments?

What to do when a client wants to change the terms of the contract?

How to ask for better terms from vendors?

Things are going well in a conversation with a potential client - until you start talking about your fee. What do you next do to seal the deal when things are feeling tense? What to do when a client won't take the suggestions you know they need to be successful?

I've learned from running my own business that negotiation is an essential skill I needed in order to survive. So, I devoured everything I could on the subject (even the out-of-print, hard to find books) and started practicing on low-stakes events.


My first real win had nothing to do with business, but it was great practice. It came when it was time to order my daughter's birth certificate. I called the government office and they told me to send $25 in cash (!) with a pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelope. Once received, they'd send me a copy. I followed the directions to the letter.

3 weeks, no certificate.

So I called again. The woman told me they received my request and sent it out already. When I told her I hadn't received it, she said my only option was to re-send the money and try again. I hung up the phone and instantly realized: I could get angry, I could roll over and send the money, or I could negotiate. I decided to do some prep work, call her back and negotiate. In the end, she sent me a new certificate free of charge, (happily I might add).

After that small win, I was hooked and reached for higher stakes. I raised my consulting fees, negotiated with vendors (saving myself over $4300 in just three months), and started landing new clients reaching out to cold contacts using my new found negotiation skills.

Here's how I did it:

This is the exact 5 step blueprint I use now before entering into any negotiation - without being aggressive or rude.

  1. You must realize you're in a negotiation. This is the hardest part, in my opinion. If you don't know you're negotiating, you will start to take things personally.
  2. Have a written plan before you begin the negotiation. Don't wing it! Be prepared. Before each interaction, write down the exact outcome you're seeking. If you're a sensitive or naturally agreeable person, it's important to have something (anything!) to say in response when your emotions get rattled.
  3. Ask open-ended questions. Some people, like me, were raised not to ask questions which makes this step seem impolite. However, questions are the only way to unlock the information that can help you get what you want. Before a negotiation, write ten questions you could ask the person on the phone. This will help move the conversation forward in case your emotions rattle you.
  4. Be neutral and pleasant in your tone. If you're angry or upset, give yourself some time to calm down before reaching for the phone. I used to think that if I was calling to negotiate I had to turn into a jerk to get my way. But in my experience, I've found the exact opposite to be true. Being pleasant, making a connection even cracking a joke or two can help grease the wheels between you and the person on the other end, helping you to get what you want.
  5. Have a plan for a no. In America, we're a nation of no-a-phobes. We hate the word and will do nearly anything to avoid it. But if you embrace it, and prepare for it in advance, you will be able to find a creative way around it.

Follow these five steps and you'll be able to negotiate better and still be "nice."

Jill Beirne Davi is a personal and business finance coach.