When you have an upcoming negotiation, there are many ways to prepare. Good preparation is important because the party who is better prepared has the upper hand.
The first thing you should do is gather the research and evidence you’re going to put forth to make your case. For example, if you’re proposing to your boss that you should hire a highly acclaimed — but more costly — creative team for your company’s upcoming rebranding project, you should have stories about that team’s past outcomes, reference checks from other clients, cost comparison data about this team and others in the running and so on. It’s also important to understand your own needs as well as your counterpart’s needs. Make it easy for your counterpart to say yes to you by putting your needs in terms that matter to her.
There’s another preparation method that’s less common but also far more effective: role-playing.
Why? It may sound awkward — in fact, it does feel awkward at first — but it’s worth the effort because you’ll gain incredible confidence knowing you have responses prepared for the tough questions you’re dreading answering. When you have your talking points down cold, you’re ready to bring them out at a moment’s notice. Thinking about what you’re going to say, or even reciting your responses out loud are no substitute for having a practice conversation with another human. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.
In my experience working with clients in industries ranging from retail to tech to non-profit, the questions people don’t want to answer often stem from their insecurities. Here are some of the types of questions I’ve role-played with people:
“Why should I hire you for X role when you only have Y experience?”
“We’ve never given this benefit to someone in your position before, why should we make an exception for you?”
“You’re asking for how much?”
These all boil down to questions about why someone is “worth it.” That’s scary to reckon with, but by no means impossible if you have done your research and presented your request in a way that’s respectful, relevant to the other party and based on objective evidence.
So how do you go about role-playing when you’re preparing for a negotiation? Follow these three simple steps:
1. Spend some quiet time thinking about your goals and what objections you are likely to face from your counterpart.
Jot some notes down or write in your journal what you want to achieve and why it’s important to you. Then, put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes and think from his perspective. What are his priorities? What’s he struggling with? Who is he accountable to? With that in mind, write down the questions you think he’ll have for you. If there are topics that you’re particularly concerned about, whether they’re likely to come up or not, be sure to add them to your notes.
2. Ask someone you trust if they’ll spend a few minutes role-playing with you.
Choose a person who has some general knowledge of your situation and who is really rooting for you. This could be a mentor, a close colleague, a friend or partner. Not sure how to ask? Try this: “Hey friend, I’m getting ready to have a big discussion with my boss about X. I’d like to practice answering some of the questions I think she’s going to ask. Do you have some time to help me talk it out?” Give your friend the backstory for your situation and your list of questions. Ask her to listen to your responses and ask any follow up questions that come to mind.
3. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
A good rule of thumb is to practice answering each question five to 10 times, depending on how quickly you get it down. If that sounds like a lot, remember that it will likely take less than half an hour total. That’s not long to gain confidence and peace of mind.
Embrace the awkward. It’s awkward to role-play, it’s especially awkward to talk about money. I encourage you to do it anyway. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: How much are you willing to pay to avoid an awkward conversation?
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.