Engineers, Learn to Negotiate

Written by Naz Delam May 14, 2021

Negotiation is another reason why communication is crucial in engineering.
Engineers, Learn to Negotiate

About the author

Naz Delam

Naz Delam is one of our professional mentors on MentorCruise and works as Individual Contributor at Netflix.

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I was sitting in a cafe in the heart of San Francisco, eating a strawberry cake with a cup of coffee. It was mid-June, the weather was warm, and I finished a technical interview. As I was drinking my coffee, I looked through the glass window of the cafe, watching cars and people passing by, and thinking about the number I just offered to the company to hire me. I was scared to lose the job but also scared not to negotiate. I gave them a number way more than my current salary; I was reluctant they accept and to get the job. As I drowned in my thoughts, my phone rang, It was the recruiter of the company, I was shocked and thought it is a rejection call, since it is just 30 mins passed from the time I left. I hold the phone: “Hi, this is Nazanin.”

She said: “Hi Nazanin. I know this is a speedy response, but we didn’t want to lose you so that we will send you an offer letter right now.”

I was shocked, stumbled, how did this happen? The number was so high, but they accepted it. I did it. I was able to negotiate and persuade them that I am worthy of the salary. I worked there for four years, and during that time I contributed to so many critical projects, but I will never forget that moment in the cafe when my phone rang and I got the job. It was even sweeter the strawberry cake.

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After that day, I learned how negotiating, and soft skills can grow your career and fasten reaching goals. Although I studied academic computer science and got many non-academic computer programming courses, none of those programs taught me how to communicate and collaborate with others. As programmers, I believe we interact with others most of the time during our daily work routine. We work with customers, product managers, challenging colleagues, and every human involved. Even when we code, we communicate with another person who is going to read that piece of code. Our code is not only for machines to understand but also for humans to read and debug.

When people ask me the most important skill I can learn to become better at my job and get promotions, I always tell them: The art of communication and human interaction.

I always try to pick up new knowledge in the field of communication and understanding human nature. There are lots of great books that I have read and many that I still wish to read. Recently I discovered MasterClass, an online learning platform with courses from the best and brightest of each field. As I am a fan of soft skills, I tool the Art of Negotiation course with Chris Voss, and I have learned many tips that can help any engineer who wishes to enhance their communication and human interaction skills.

Mirror words

We always think before entering a negotiation room, or a simple meeting in which we want to negotiate. We believe we have to lay down all of our arguments beforehand and come prepared. That is not true.

Negotiation is the art of engaging and evolving with the other side; it gathers information as you communicate and analyze your next move as the conversation flies.

Mirroring is a critical technique in information gathering. What does mirroring means?

Mirroring is simply repeating the last one to three keywords of what the other side just said, followed by an active pause.

Mirroring can look something like this:

The other side:

“My main concern is sorted though — as long as the encryption is happening on the client everywhere we do it, that’s what I wanted to know. Sorry to keep popping up with questions.”


“ I will ensure the encryption happens on the client everywhere.”…..

When you mirror, it shows the other side that you are paying attention to their every word. It is a way of saying: I heard your words. When you mirror, you connect to the other person.

Label emotions

Everyday, we face wide ranges of emotions at work. We get irritated, stressed, pressured, sad or we may feel envy. These negative emotions consumes us, and degrades the quality of our work. Emotions can emerge during our conversations with others; the frustration, the stress, the anxiety. One way to communicate and be aware of their emotions.

Labeling is one way to make us realize what emotions are going through someone’s mind. When you realize the negative emotion simply label it, by saying:

I realize you are frustrated….

It sounds like you are frustrated….

I don’t want you to be frustrated….

Research shows when you label emotions, it reduces the negative impulse between two people. It creates trust-based influence.

If you want to create even more impact follow up the labeling with a PAUSE. Pausing will let the label sink in and reside within the audience mind. So try:

I realize you are frustrated…. + Pause

It sounds like you are frustrated…. + Pause

I don’t want you to be frustrated…. + Pause

Be a We’er

The way people talk and express themselves say lot about their role in the company. When it comes to engineers, there are two groups, the I’ers and the We’ers.

The I’res are the ones that start their sentences with I, I have an idea…, I made this feature…, I think…, My recommendation…. . You can recognize them easily in any meetings. The We’ers on the other hand use we or they communicate: we think…, Our recommendation…, It is better that we… .

Study shows the more authority and power the person has, the more they use plural pronouns versus the singular pronouns.

When it comes to expression, it is better to use plural pronouns ( We, They ). This shows the maturity and seniority of the engineer.

Be a Sponge

In the business world, a sponge is someone who is tirelessly driven to seek and absorb new information. In general terms, this means someone who is highly curious, possibly even somewhat obsessive, about gathering data and learning from it.

When it comes to communication, being a sponge means to be patient and gather information. When you are in a meeting or talking to a colleague, be a great listener, let the other person express and communicate comfortably.

Your role as a sponge is to absorb information patiently.

Next time you are in the meeting, try to shift your focus to be a listener than an engineer who talks the most. Absorb the information and come up with a statement to present to the team.

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When it comes to communication and human interactions, it is tough to find one primary way of success. Humans are complicated, and they prefer a personalized method of interaction. As an engineer, communication is the most important soft skill to acquire. Knowing how to communicate effectively can shape other skills, such as leadership, persuasion, and people management.

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