Communication skills are vital to our careers, yet we don’t often look for opportunities to improve them. While dealing with salespeople can be stressful—we often see them as a drain on our bank account—that interaction can also serve as a chance to sharpen our negotiation skills. And learning to negotiate is essential no matter what career we’re striving for.
Here are a few ways to improve your communication skills the next time you deal with a salesperson:
1. Ask a ridiculous question.
Whoever said there are no stupid questions was a fool. If you’ve ever asked a silly question, you know what it feels like to have blood rush to your face. Yet we can’t avoid asking silly questions once in a while; we need the answers no matter how much it hurts. Asking whatever questions come to your mind, regardless of how silly they seem, will help you feel comfortable asking that important question at work.
2. Negotiate the price.
There are two types of people in this world: those who live to nickel and dime to get the lowest possible price—and everyone else. If you’re part of the latter group, you will spend your life paying more than others. Sometimes, paying a lower price is as simple as asking for it. When you pay less, you have more money to spend on yourself. You also get to avoid feeling like you got ripped off. Negotiating skills will come in handy when you’re haggling for a raise or looking to take on a new opportunity.
3. Practice walking away.
In any relationship, both personal and professional, your greatest leverage is your ability to walk away. Strike that. Your greatest leverage is your ability to appear as though you can walk away. Employees who are seen as career lifers are unlikely to advance or get the raises they deserve. So try looking like you’re going to walk away with your salesperson. Be polite, but leave somewhat abruptly when the initial price is absurdly high. Odds are, your phone will ring with an offer for a better price within 24 hours.
4. Make small talk.
Holiday parties and other social events require small talk, which doesn’t come easy to some of us. Whether you chat about the weather or last night's news headlines, sharpen your small-talk skills so they’re polished when you really need them.
5. Use silence as a tool.
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then silence is the Van Gogh of verbal communication. There's often no better way to elicit information from co-workers or clients. Sit stoically across from your salesperson and watch them fill the silence with valuable information about the car, information that can be used to negotiate a better price.
6. Ask for the manager.
It's the ultimate sales tattletale: "I want to speak to your manager." The translation? The salesperson is not getting the job done, so you’re calling "daddy." But no one said the manager can only be called for complaints. Tell the supervisor you’re happy with the salesperson or impressed with the showroom. The practice here is being unafraid to call on an authority figure, which will make you more comfortable talking to your boss’s boss.
[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers.]
7. Embrace the follow-up.
As sure as rain, the salesperson will follow up, no matter how much interest you displayed. Rather than avoid the phone calls, field them and continue to work on your skills. You’re not looking for an endless game of cat and mouse, but you should find a moment to request your dream scenario. Who knows—it might happen!
Each of us has opportunities to practice these vital communication skills in our daily life. The next time you deal with a salesperson, think about how you can communicate better to get what you want. Those skills will come in handy in your career when you least expect it.