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  • Writer's pictureJanice K. Lee

The Art of Negotiation: How to Turn a "No" into a "Yes"

And the 3 things that completely changed how I approach negotiation.

Pushing for an Amendment to a Bill at a Mock Committee Hearing for @HSDA

Image Description: This was a major time when I had to negotiate. During my HSDA conference where I was Vice President of a mock committee hearing, I proposed an amendment to an existing bill that would help small businesses. Throughout the process, I had to negotiate and persuade the other chamber members to vote in favor of passing the amendment. In the end, it passed!

The Bartering Begins

I've always been observing, adapting, and refining my approach to negotiation while begging for a cat as a child, pushing for a bill in Model Congress, and now determining my rates for jobs where I get to set the compensation. Over time I've come to realize that "negotiating" isn't just a fancy term used between two executives; it's everyone's business— all the time. And like many important things, negotiation is a soft skill, where people, social, and communication skills are crucial in establishing high-quality relationships with other people. Negotiation is integrated in every ladder of formality, from casual conversations to business deals.

But it's not always easy for everybody. And I only recently realized that negotiation will only get more difficult and important as I journey into my career. The realization hit me when I had to figure out how much to charge for my first consulting project. I was plagued with questions, and I figured it was time to re-learn everything I thought I knew about negotiating. One way I've learned to improve my soft skills is by watching and learning from one of my favorite experts, Marie Forleo. In one of her podcasts, she interviewed Alexandra Carter, a Columbia Law Professor and negotiation trainer for the United Nations. You can watch the whole thing here, but allow me to do all the work for you and highlight what I thought were the very points that triggered an "Aha!" moment.

Art of Negotiating: Podcast Highlights

Point One: Think of Negotiation as a Kayak.

"Negotiating is any conversation in which you are steering a relationship. That's it."
  • Note the quote above. Carter points out that negotiation is about relationship building. Imagine sitting in a kayak. You want to steer the direction of the kayak to not get carried away by the water. Likewise, you want to negotiate the relationship between you and someone else.

  • You don't have to wait until the big moment or conversation to negotiate: it's about the build up. You can steer conversations throughout so that when you reach the "moment" of negotiation, you'll be prepared.

  • "But isn't that manipulation? Isn't that controlling?" you might ask. And the answer is no! Step back into the kayak: if you don't take a control of the paddles you'll drift. And when you don't have a hold on the paddle, someone else will take it for you. Steer the kayak for mutual benefit.

Point Two: Determining your Self-Worth isn't Selfish. Here's Why.

  • This is a big one for younger women and typically underrepresented groups who deal with impostor syndrome. When it comes to recognition— and if we want to be realistic, our salary— we tend to be shy. We don't want to come off as demanding, even if we think we deserve it.

  • However, as Carter proves, getting what you deserve and communicating that isn't selfish at all. In fact, communicating your worth or through recognition or salary teaches the other person to value you, and everyone else after you.

  • When you ask for more, you normalize that higher standard so that the women or POC coming after them doesn't have to fight for it as hard. See? Quite selfless.

  • This behavior creates patterns of change and opens more seats at the table. And you'll be the one to help that.

Point Three: Negotiation isn't about the "Alpha"

  • Many people believe that negotiating is an adversarial back-and-fourth, and that the more aggressive party comes out with their lot of gold. That's a myth.

  • As mentioned, negotiation is about human relationships. Turns out, the best negotiators and leaders are the ones who ask the right questions. What does that mean exactly?

  • How you ask a question is more important when it comes to the problem you want to solve. When trying to turn a "no" into a "yes"- there are four words that works miracles: "What are your concerns?"

  • This question gives the other an opportunity to tell you what is holding up what you want. So instead of pitching what you want in the beginning, figure out what it is that they want, and pitch to their concerns.

  • Inviting them to share their concerns shows confidence since it implies you know what you have to offer. And when you listen to people, you create a lot of value for both parties.

  • Case Study: One of Carter's clients, a product supplier, was turned down twice in their offer for a deal with a buyer. On their third try, they walked into the room without their pitch deck. Throwing that aside, they instead asked, "What are your concerns?" and invited the buyer to express why they didn't want to do business with them. After the buyers explained they believed their customers were not ready for a premium, the suppliers then pitched to the buyer's concerns without even using their pitch deck. And they walked out with a six figure deal, during quarantine— off one question.


The effectiveness of recognizing your worth, asking the right questions and listening to the other side is invaluable. These three points completely changed my approach to negotiation and how I go about various situations when it's involved. Knowing these truths will help you out big time when you're feeling confused and debating situations where you are working with someone or wanting to reach a goal. Thank you to Marie Forleo and Alexandra Cater for the amazing episode and insight! You can listen to more of Forleo's podcasts here. Happy negotiating!


About the Author

Janice Lee is a Sophomore studying Marketing, Accounting, and Entrepreneurship at Rutgers Business School. When she's not looking at business plans, she's most likely on her Oculus Go, experimenting to brew the best iced coffee, or writing about it.

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