The Art of Negotiation

Yesterday, I was reading a chain of comments on a post in a Facebook group I belong to. There were over 30 comments helping a woman deal with a problem focused around a transaction wherein the poster was trying to sell something to a friend and felt taken advantage of. Obviously, it was full of emotion and fellow group members were only happy to offer their advice. I read the initial post lat week and thought, “Huh, I think there is a clear, but not easy solution to this.” But I am not a mental health professional, only a financial (and artistic!) one and so I watched as others dissected how she felt, how her friend she had the interaction with felt, and the layers got peeled away as quickly as they can on Facebook.

Yesterday, another member posted a comment about how this relates to her small business and I decided to finally post my comment, which was that the problem is not that her friend disrespects her or that she is spineless or is being walked on, the simple truth is that we are a society that sort of sucks at negotiating.

There was a point when we were purely small communities within larger infrastructures, so we knew the local grocer and whatever the equivalent of Bed, Bath, and Beyond was. So if Fred was charging $.19 for bananas we could say, “Fred, those bananas are awful high for me today, will you take $.15?” And Fred would most likely say yes, take your money, and move on.

But now we’re a society of huge mega-marts and credit cards where we don’t (and mostly can’t) negotiate. You can’t walk into Ikea and say, “I love the Ektorp, but I can’t afford the sawdust and glue it’s made out of at $4. I think it’s more like $2.” The Swedes would smack you and tell you to move on while they helped the next 400 people walking through the door.

However, there are plenty of instances where negotiation is perfectly warranted and expected: determining your salary, buying a car or a house, receiving services run by sole proprietors. There is a certain amount of wiggle room built into these transactions because there is a much larger human element to them. Wal-Mart is the opposite of human so you can’t possibly expect them to negotiate, plus larger companies like that already have the discount of bulk built into their prices so you’d be laughed at for your Ektorp because $4 is honestly the lowest price.

Women and younger generations are especially bad at negotiating because we were never taught how to do it. When we went to our first jobs we were grateful for the paycheck and showed up everyday to collect it. My mother and father are the best negotiators I know. I know my dad got that way because he’s Scottish and my mom because she was raised by the most headstrong Lithuanian immigrant to hit New England: my grandfather. But even she gets nervous negotiating even though she’s amazing at it. If I see it in action, I’ll record it for y’all.

But now our economy has crumbled and is being built back up by a series of promises made by terrified people. And so many people are being told to negotiate and ask for what you want. Which is all well and good if you know what you’re doing. And most of us don’t.

So I’m here to tell you the two things you need to do when it comes to negotiating:

1. Do your research.

I cannot stress this enough. If you want more money, you had better know that the Equity SPT 10 minimum rate for actors is x and you want x+5%. Your reasons need to make sense within the whole picture of what you’re asking for and because you think you’re being gouged is not a good reason. Because antique cherry wood coffee tables usually sell for 40% less is a good reason. Time is on your side because whoever you’re buying from wants to sell it to you. They do, I promise. Unless you’re seriously undercutting them, they don’t know if they’re going to get a better deal and then want their inventory gone. So do your research.

2. Remember that you are dealing with people.

From your doctor to the car salesman to credit card companies, you ultimately have to convince a person to make the deal for you. And most people are inherently good so give them the benefit of the doubt. They’re boss could have issued an edict for “No more discounts!” that morning or they could have just gotten into a fight with their significant other. Just be gentle, make your case emotion-free and if you’ve done your research your logic will win. You can always walk away.

Oh! That should be number 3:

3. Be ready to walk away.

If you feel like your well-laid out argument is not being heard, just say, “Thanks for your time. I think we’re at an impasse.” And walk away. Nothing is that important and there are other vendors you can work with who won’t let you walk away.

That’s it! Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, go and negotiate and tell me how it goes! Do you have any recent negotiating experiences?

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