Should We Negotiate?

You: "Gimme more money, or I quit!"

Your boss: "You're fired!"

Another successful negotiation? No! And yet, this is what many people have in mind when they consider what a negotiation entails: ultimatums, threats, and broken relationships.

However, the above scenario is precisely a failure to negotiate. I think many people are hesitant to negotiate because they can only think of the most extreme scenarios of gut wrenching emotional struggles and financial disasters. I can only speculate as to why so many people think of negotiation as a cut-throat battle of bravado and violence, but I'm guessing our entertainment media has something to do with it. Watch any episode of a legal drama (Law and Order, the Good Wife, etc) and you'll see negotiation as little more than mutual threats to expose infidelity or crime. Consider also the preponderance of action movies and TV where most negotiations involve explosives and/or firearms. Indeed, if one's idea of the process of negotiation is formed by observing Tony Soprano, or Michael Corleone, it is no wonder most people are hesitant to engage!

Aside from media, I think there is also a general hesitance to talk about money in our culture. No one wants to be seen as greedy or focused only on money. Maybe we tend to think if we negotiate, we will be forced to discuss things that will make us socially uncomfortable. Well, all I can say is I'd happily endure some brief social awkwardness rather than suffer feeling like I got a "raw deal."

So, here are just a few "do's" and "don'ts" when it comes to negotiation:

Don't make "demands."

Do ask for what you want.

If you want central air conditioning, but the house doesn't come with it, and it's overpriced, consider asking for air conditioning or a price drop. Don't just say "put in AC or I walk" (if you want the house). 

Don't issue ultimatums.

Do offer options.

Instead of saying, "give me X or I will [threat here]" try saying something like "I really want X so that I can do Y for you, but if you can't give me X then I guess I'll have to give you Z." Z should be unattractive, but not threatening or something that will sever the relationship. Also, present the options as though they are just "how it is" so to speak. For example: "I really want to work more hours at this job, but without a 5% raise, I won't be able to afford the extra time at work. Maybe I can telecommute more often?"

Don't go in with a "one and done" best and last offer

Do have several contingency plans.

Start with an offer that will benefit you more than you even want. Want a house, but need a $10,000 discount? Ask for it, and a pool, and new carpets. When that offer gets rejected, and you drop your request for a pool or new carpets, you'll look like a reasonable, amicable person and you may even get your discount. If you come in at first with your best offer that you absolutely won't compromise in any way, and it gets rejected, what do you do?

Don't focus only on what you want.

Do try to figure out what the other party wants, and how to give it to them.

In any negotiation, each party wants something. You want more money, and your boss wants you to work, but only up to a certain cost. Try figure out where that line is. Also, try to push the line back. Emphasize how you provide value to your employer, and how more pay will enable you to provide more value. Pay is not a gift given to you to compensate you for existing, it is an investment in your production. Show your employer that you offer excellent ROI and he/she would be nuts not to invest more! 

As you can tell, these couple of thoughts only scratch the surface of the art of negotiation. My favorite book on this subject is Herb Cohen's famous You Can Negotiate Anything, but there are dozens of informative and useful writings about this rare skill. 

My hope is that you can maybe see negotiation as the means by which people get what they want and come to mutually beneficial agreements rather than the exercise of force by the stronger party against the weaker. A world of people engaged in negotiation is a world where everyone gets at least some of what they want. It doesn't have to be all or none!

"Compromise is the best and cheapest lawyer." - R.L. Stevenson

Jay Villella