When you read the word, "negotiation," what word pops into your mind? Perhaps "argument," "tough" or some such. But it's probably not "gentle." Nevertheless, it may be wise to negotiate gently.
The first offer. Conventional wisdom is that you should try to get the first offer to come from your negotiating partner. (The term "partner" rather than "opponent" sets the right tone.) In fact, it may be wiser for you to make the first offer. After having done your homework, make an offer that's fair, citing the basis for that being fair. That could yield a quick yes. Alternatively, ask, "What's the most your organization feels comfortable paying? I don't want to squeeze every last penny. I just want what's fair." Note that the use of "your organization" rather than "you" subtly reminds your negotiation partner that he or she won't be negotiating away his or her personal money.
The counteroffer. If the counteroffer seems even borderline fair, it's typically wise to take it. Generally, any more you get after the first offer isn't, after taxes, worth it. Why? Because it's unlikely to change your lifestyle, yet the employer may then expect too much of you, deem you expensive and thus prone to layoff or even retract the job offer. But don't jump at an offer lest your negotiation partner feels he or she could have gotten you for less. Just calmly say something like, "Well, I guess I can accept that."
Think cosmically. It may help to put yourself in your negotiating partner's shoes, especially if you're feeling oppositional: Might he or she lack the power to offer you more or be under real pressure to control costs? Of course, you'd prefer he or she control costs other than by minimizing your pay, but it may at least be worth considering that.
It may also help to think of what's cosmically fair: What would God deem fair to both sides? The goal is not to get the best deal you can. It's to get a deal both parties can feel OK about and which, in the largest sense, seems just.
Non-cash may be easier to negotiate. Often, the employer can't or won't budge much on the dollar issue but may have more flexibility elsewhere: your job description, job title, whom you'll report to, the date of your salary review, the options for flex-time and telecommuting, a training budget, administrative support, car allowance, etc. Don't assume the employer is simply trying to say no to everything. See if you can find something(s) your negotiation partner can easily say yes to.
What if he or she is a shark? Despite your Solomonic efforts, some people still try to extract every last dime from you, ethically or not. If you're getting the strong sense that's the case, are you sure you want to work with that person? If you do, then you may have to replace gentle negotiation with tough bargaining. For high-powered tactics, check out a few books: "Secrets of Power Negotiating" by Roger Dawson, "Bargaining for Advantage" by G. Richard Shell and/or "Start With NO" by Jim Camp.
Feel good about "losing." Let's say the best deal you can get is a lousy one. Yes, sometimes, it's wise to walk away but, other times, even a lousy deal may be worth taking. For example, if you care enough about the work you'd do or feel your value in the job market is dubious, it may be worth swallowing your pride. Again, think cosmically, in terms of the largest scheme of things. That may seem a strange way to make decisions but after you start thinking that way, you may not want to think any other way.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.