Life is an endless series of negotiations, small and large. Getting a great deal on a new car, talking your husband into taking a vacation, enlisting reluctant co-workers to adopt your big idea, recruiting friends to a cause — all require clever powers of persuasion. Luckily, emerging research by psychologists, economists, and other experts can arm you with the skills you need to have things your way. Here's your cheat sheet.
Win the best possible price
Use the 15-to-20 percent rule: Buyers and sellers overestimate how good a deal they're making when it comes to a home, car, or similar item, says a recent study co-authored by Richard Larrick, PhD, a business professor at Duke University. Most of the time, researchers found, each party had more wiggle room than she thought — and could've used it to save or make more money.
Your strategy: Lowball up front
If you are the buyer, offer the salesperson 15 percent to 20 percent less than what you can really afford. "That way, you'll be leaving room for concessions," Larrick says. For instance, if you absolutely can't spend more than $6,000 on a used car advertised at $7,000, try offering $5,100 (15 percent less than $6,000). Next: Explain why this price is reasonable (the car has a limited warranty or few of the extras you were hoping for). Reverse logic follows if you're the seller: Make the initial price 15 percent more than what you'd accept — if you must get $6,000 for your car, offer it for around $7,000 — and have reasons why. Remember: Set a realistic limit and have a plan B if you don't get a deal.
Get your husband to agree
Be a problem solver: Women are more deft at resolving conflict than are their husbands, according to a new study by Iowa State University psychologists. That doesn't mean you should use your skills to always get your way — instead, rely on your superior problem-solving ability to take the lead in finding areas of compromise. A good way to start: Give a minor dispute — like where to vacation — the attention it deserves and ask your spouse to do the same, advises Carnegie Mellon University economist Linda Babcock, PhD, co-author of the new book "Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want."
Your strategy: Focus on similarities
Don't just say to your husband, "I want to go to Key West" — that's an intractable position, explains Babcock. Instead, talk about what you want out of your trip ("I'd like to go sailing and spend time at the beach"). Then suggest that he do the same, and seek common ground. You may find another seaside locale that features the PGA golf course he wants to play and sun and sand. "Find a resolution in the places where your interests intersect," says Babcock.
State your case over and over: When one person expresses an opinion repeatedly — in a friendly way — the effect is the same as several people lobbying the point, a study found. Repetition evokes a sense of familiarity, making it seem that convictions are widely shared, says study co-author Stephen Garcia, PhD, of the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
Your strategy: Repeat your message in their words
Before pushing an idea at work, practice mimicking your co-workers' communication styles, suggests Caroline Keating, PhD, a psychology professor at Colgate University. If your co-worker leans in slightly while talking to you, do the same, and mirror her speech pattern. "Get in sync nonverbally with the other person — it's much easier to agree with someone if you're on the same wavelength," says Keating. As you're enjoying that easy rapport, refer to your idea a few times in a positive tone. To increase the likelihood that your idea is given priority at work, Garcia suggests repeating it to key people over several days or weeks. Just do so appropriately — start with a casual e-mail before an official memo, and don't jump the office chain of command.
Recruit a friend to your cause
Make it personal: People are more receptive to an idea when it's illustrated by a good story, says Melanie Green, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For instance, a University of Southern California study found those watching the TV drama "ER" were 65 percent more likely than others to eat healthfully after watching an episode featuring obese patients with hypertension.
Your strategy: Tell a tale
If you're trying to interest a friend in your favorite charity, skip the facts and figures and focus on people the organization has helped and their stories of triumph or sorrow. "Most people recognize that poverty is a problem, but when they learn about what a real person actually experiences, it runs deeper," says Green. Keep in mind, too, that real-life accounts are usually harder to dispute than a set of data.