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I'm excited to be shopping for my first new car. I've done a fair bit of research on prices, and I'd like to get a good deal, but I'm not feeling that comfortable about negotiating with a salesperson. Any tips or advice? – Pina in Renfrew, Ont.

Haggling at garage sales and church bazaars is one thing, but when it comes to purchasing an automobile, some of us do tend to shy away.

A survey by the folks at Unhaggle, an online new car marketplace, found that while 75 per cent of women decide the make, model, and colour of the household vehicle, 69 per cent are accompanied by a man when negotiating a car deal. Is it true, then, that the majority of women lack negotiation skills?

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"Actually women tend to be very good negotiators because they typically take a more collaborative, problem-solving approach. Men take a more competitive, adversarial approach. Decades of negotiating research have shown that a more adversarial approach actually produces inferior agreements for both sides," says Sara Laschever, co-author of Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation and Positive Strategies for Change, and Ask for It! How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want.

"Women are very good at negotiating for other people, as advocacy and taking care of others is a gender norm for women. But when we come to negotiating for ourselves, our self-confidence plummets, we feel like we're not good at it. We're uncomfortable in what is perceived to be an aggressive interaction because we know that in general as a society we don't like women that we perceive to be too aggressive," says Laschever.

So how can the hesitant among us improve at negotiation? Like most things, you need practice to become comfortable and confident.

When it comes to car buying, the most important action is taking the time to prepare beforehand. You need to know what the vehicle you're interested in is selling for in your area.

"Make a list of what kinds of accessories you're interested in. All that is negotiable, and often when you get to the point where they won't budge any more on price, a good tactic is to ask them to throw in some of the accessories or add-ons to sweeten the deal," says Laschever. "Don't forget you can negotiate the finance package as well. The rate is completely up for grabs, and you can ask for a better deal."

Next, try role playing. Sit down with a friend and tell them the parameters of the negotiation, and what you're worried about or what might make you lose your composure. "Have them play it through for you and be intimidating, or too charming, or sleazy or whatever it is that pushes your buttons. Then practise calm responses to push things back toward a problem-solving alliance," says Laschever.

"It's really good to prepare your responses in the role play and have them ready. If someone does whatever it is that might destabilize you, you've already had that emotion in the role play and it won't surprise you. In negotiation, surprise is as much an emotion in itself that makes people want to get out."

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Laschever, who teaches negotiation workshops, strongly advises visiting a few car lots after committing to yourself that you won't make a deal that day. "You're just going to talk about it, you're not going to get pushed to say yes even if it's your dream deal. Just practise and develop a relationship with a salesperson at a couple of different dealerships. If they're pushing, let them know you're checking with a few different dealers and walk out. It's really good to experience the power of walking out; they will run after you –they really want you to sign when you come through the door."

There are websites that offer to help you compare prices, and navigate the sea of manufacturer and dealer costs and rebates. But learning about the old-fashioned art of negotiation may also be in your best interest. "There are women who say negotiating is so unpleasant for them, it's not worth it to save $300 or $1,000 or $15, or whatever the situation is – but if you routinely sacrifice a significant percentage of what you could save in all sorts of transactions, you're giving up a lot over the course of your lifetime," says Laschever.

You've done your homework and some role playing. Now it's time to get out there. Remember, a negotiation is really a conversation between two or more people to reach an agreement. With a bit of preparation, you should be able to reap the financial and personal rewards.

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