You Don’t Get What You Don’t Ask For: A Primer on Negotiation

By Wednesday, July 23, 2014 No tags Permalink 0

After reading this New Yorker piece, “Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate,” I wanted to share my current thinking on this topic.

Negotiation is not something that you are born knowing how to do. You learn the art and then you must practice it. For many people, and often many women, they don’t do either.

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You do not get what you don’t ask for. If you get a no, that doesn’t mean the deal is over. Learning how to negotiate is about putting fear aside and developing a plan of attack that is reasonable. In the case of the women in this post she didn’t ask for one or two things, but made seven requests. “She wanted a slightly higher salary than the starting offer, paid maternity leave for one semester, a pre-tenure sabbatical, a cap on the number of new classes that she would teach each semester, and a deferred starting date,” writes the author of the post. When hiring, I pride myself on accommodating working mom’s (and dad’s) requests, but also want to know that work is a high priority. With these requests it’s easy to see work takes a far distant second. I too would be turned off and would not have hired her. I recently hired a killer PhD data scientist who has two kids. She asked for flexible hours , including occasionally working from home, two very reasonable requests. And I gladly agreed.

I recently made a job offer to a candidate that I was excited to hire. After expressing great interest in the company and the job, she hesitated to respond to the offer (days went by), and then came back to me with a long letter stating why she won’t be taking the job. The only ‘reason’ was salary. We didn’t meet her requirements.

I was fully open to negotiation and to increasing the base, but she closed the door. As an employer I’m now left thinking if she can’t negotiate for herself, how will she negotiate for the company and me? I contemplated counter-offering but resigned not to as I felt her lack of negotiating was too big of a red flag. Women (and men): Leaders respect negotiation. Stand up for yourself and ask for what you deserve (within reason).

If you want to be a good negotiator, you must understand a few basics about how deals work and how to get what you want from the other side of the table. Here’s a start:

1. Understand what the other party wants out of the deal. What do they have to gain and to lose? What are you uniquely poised to deliver that no one else can? How do you propose to make them understand that they need what you are selling?

2. What are your non-negotiables? What is the absolute minimum you’ll say yes or no to and stick to? Envision your ideal scenario and then your next best etc. until you know every part you’ll agree to and work from there. For example, if you are leasing a car, you might have a monthly price in mind and be willing to give up on satellite radio to stay within your budget.

3. Realize that you are not negotiating with the Wizard of Oz, but talking to the guy or gal behind the curtain – in most cases, that would be a human. Is there anything this person has to gain or lose by getting this deal done? How can you help them win? Just going into a deal trying to aggressively land grab might win in the short term, but dealmaking is about building relationships. And relationships are about long-term customers and repeat business.

4. If you walk out of a deal getting everything you want, that means the other perhaps side needs to read this blog post.

Seriously, in most well negotiated deals, both parties don’t get everything they want. That’s the art, the strategy and often the fun of it. You must think deeply about your plan of attack before you sit down of the table so you know exactly what potholes to avoid and how you will be happy with where you end up.

As Steven Covey (one of my personal idols) would say, seek a “win-win”. All parties win, but winning doesn’t mean the outcome you first conceived with only your needs in mind.  In the win-lose paradigm, in the end you don’t win if the other loses.  It will come back to you.