Negotiations aren’t neat and tidy events that happen at the beginning of an engagement and stop as soon as the contract is signed. Negotiations happen all the time and in all sorts of situations, but if you don’t realize you are negotiating, things can get messy pretty quickly.
Here’s how to recognize negotiations that don’t announce themselves with neon signs and some advice for handling them just as successfully as any other negotiation.
R2-D2 and C-3PO are best friends. They grew up together, went to the same college and for the past few weeks, they’ve been working on a story together. A friend of a friend of C-3PO’s is an editor and, based on R2 and 3PO’s happy hour accentuated pitch, has agreed to take a look at it. Unfortunately, the story isn’t done; it’s still in pre-first draft form.
R2’s been dragging his feet finalizing the plot structure. He promised to have the final outline to him this morning, but 3PO hasn’t heard from him. They hung out last night, but every time 3PO brought the story up R2 told him to chill out. Friend-of-a-friend Editor needs a copy of the story by the end of the week or she won’t have time to look at it.
3PO is frustrated and angry at R2. This could be a big break for him and he doesn’t understand why his best friend is being so difficult to work with.
Negotiating jobs with strangers or people you only deal with in the business world is one thing. Those people disappear into the ether at quitting time, they will not be at dinner tonight, at the BBQ this weekend or at your birthday party next month.
Friends are a different story. Your friends, we hope, are going to be around for a long, long time. A botched business deal or contractual miscommunication isn’t worth losing a friendship. A friendship also shouldn’t jeopardize your career.
As promised, we’re getting back into the groove of a more regular schedule around these parts. “More regular” means a couple things: (1) less than a month will separate posts and (2) between now and the end of the year, you can expect a minimum of five brand spanking new WMFH posts.
Tell your friends, family & fellow artists in arms: The Blog, she is back up!
Rather than jump into a complicated post on negotiation jujitsu, let’s ease ourselves back into this, what say? How about a nice, wholesome reminder of one of your very best negotiating friends: your back-up plan.
In the past when I’ve talked about back-up plans, I’ve used the term “BATNA.” BATNA stands for “Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.” It is a fancy negotiation term we negotiators use when talking about negotiate-y things around the negotiated water cooler.
But you don’t have to.
BATNA just means “What I’m going to do if this doesn’t work out” — it’s just your back-up plan for a negotiation.
I’m going to go way out on a limb here and assume that you aren’t negotiating for kicks. That you’re not bored and looking for an emotionally draining activity that requires conflict, introduces the possibility of gaining (or losing) large amounts of money and will make you question your self-worth based on things outside of your control.
No. You are negotiating for a reason. And that reason is that by putting yourself through this process you will be closer to getting something you really want: your goal.
Goals are big things like: Publishing the Story I’ve Been Working on for Five Years or Being a Self-Sufficient Artist. They aren’t things that are achieved in a single negotiation — they require a lot of smaller negotiations in order to happen. Each of those smaller negotiations provide you with things that can help you reach your goal — money, connections, tools and, yes, even exposure. Those are your interests — the things you need for fulfillment of your goal.
But, Katie, I thought this post was about Back-Up Plans?
Dear Reader: Your back-up plan is how you make sure you can still reach your goal regardless of how the negotiation you are in plays out.
First: Think about your back-up plan before you start negotiating. Most people end up compromising in negotiations not because they think it’s the right thing to do, but because they think it is the only thing to do. Failing to think of alternatives before you start negotiating traps you into thinking that the negotiation is the only way to solve the problem. There are about three problems in the world that only have one solution, and your problem isn’t it. Promise.
Second: Keep your eyes on the prize, your goal. Your back-up plan should be something that you actually want to do because it will get you to your end result. If you build a back-up plan that you don’t want to do, you will accept crappier terms in the negotiation to avoid your back-up plan. You only want to compromise in a negotiation if the compromise helps you achieve your goal in a way you won’t be able to otherwise. You never want to compromise to avoid having to do something else.
Third: Be choate in your back-up plan. You don’t want your back up plan to fall through because your sister’s boyfriend’s cousin Sam forgot to get that thing from that guy. The less you have to depend on others for your back-up plan to work, the easier you’ll be able to put it into action when you need an escape hatch from your negotiation. Remember: your back up plan is helping you achieve your goal. You want to be able to use that puppy quickly & easily.
Finally: be creative! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with people who have sworn up, down, and sideways that they only way to fix their problem is through a successful negotiation when in fact there were several other things they could have done. As soon as you start thinking of your problem as special and unique, is when you start cutting off options for yourself. Push yourself by boiling down your interests to their elements: do you really need Jim to pay you? Or do you need money? Do you want access to this particular studio? Or do you want to work with other professionals? Find out what’s at the heart of your interest and brainstorm ways that you can accomplish that outside of the negotiation.
I don’t care what you call it — BATNA, Back-Up Plan, Plan B, Fall Back Position, or The Thing I Can Do if I Can’t Do This — just have one. Have one before you start negotiating. Have one that helps you achieve your goals. Have one that you can accomplish on your own. Have one. It will make your negotiations, and life, a whole lot easier.
Delivered direct to my inbox this morning was a snippet of an article about envy and negotiating. And it made me feel very smug. Because it’s very similar to what we just talked about in the last post.
Turns out, shockingly, that when we envy a counterpart in a negotiation, we’re more likely to hold back information from them. Or even just flat out lie.
Rather than focus on our interest in the negotiation at hand (what we wanted when we were calm, cool & collected), we start responding emotionally to our counterpart. Our focus shifts to Social and Life interests that surround the deal and those interests subtly take control.
We likely don’t even realize it’s happening. I know that some of the ways I hear it come up most often is, “I can’t let him pull something like this,” or “I need to show her that I have the power in this situation.”
Now, posturing can be important in a negotiation, but if it’s what you’re focusing on and reacting to, you’re not focused on the Deal. You’ve shifted your focus to your Social interests. You should not expect that the actions you take on behalf of your Social interests will improve the Deal. Your Social situation? Yes. The Deal? No.
For those of you nerdy like me, the study the article referrences can be found here. Enjoy!
Personally, one of the most frustrating things about negotiating is that sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
I can do everything that I think will positively influence the negotiation, that will create a valuable, beneficial exchange for both sides, and it just doesn’t work.
For me, “doesn’t work” means we don’t come to an agreement; I get less than what I was after and don’t have something to balance out my interests; or I finish the negotiation hoping I won’t have to work with the other person again.
I consider each of those situations as ones where it “didn’t work out” because I leave the negotiation feeling disappointed, exhausted and usually at least a little angry. It’s one thing to be frustrated by a negotiation but still excited about the project or thing you were negotiating about; it is quite another to finish a negotiation and resent the subject of the negotiation because of how things turned out.
I haven’t figured out how to make disappointing negotiations less frustrating, but I’ve been working on how to make them more productive. Because sulking is fun and all, but sometimes you want to do something different.
Here is my something different:
The First 24 Hours Are Free
Pretending you do not feel how you feel is dumb. It is dumb because it doesn’t help. You don’t get the benefits of catharsis, you lose the opportunity to learn why you feel the way you do, and, unless you are extremely good at pretending, everyone can tell you’re upset anyway.
So give yourself the first 24 hours after a disappointment to do, be and say whatever you need to.
If you feel pissed off, be pissed off. If you want to sulk and tell the tale of Woe is Me, do it. If you are angry and feel like punching something really hard, go to the gym and lay waste to the punching bag.
Really give yourself the freedom to naturally react to what just happened. The only limitation you have in these first 24 hours is that you don’t get to talk to the folks with whom you just negotiated, at least not about the negotiation. (This includes not talking about it on the internet!)
At some point during this 24 hour period, pull out a piece of paper and list the top 10 things that piss you off about what happened. Everything is fair game, and don’t worry about self-censoring. Just get it down on paper. The reason I suggest limiting it to the top 10 things that piss you off is to give yourself some structure. You’re going to come back to this in a few days and the structure will help you.
After the 24 hours? Well obviously you’ll still feel disappointed, but the Luke Skywalker business? It’s done, kaput, The End, etc. Time to make a better movie.
Back to the Beginning
Rather than maintaining your focus on the situation and how much it sucks, give yourself a break and focus on something that is all yours and makes you feel good: your goals.
What goal was this particular negotiation trying to help you achieve? Take that goal, dust it off, and see how it sits in this new situation.
Chances are there are ways of making the disappointing situation work for one or more of your goals. Likely it won’t be in the ways that you were hoping it would or that you wanted it to, but chances are the new situation isn’t totally useless. But if you keep focusing on how much the new situation sucks, you likely won’t be able to see how your goals can still be supported.
Switching focus to your goals, things that make you feel good, is a way of tricking your brain into using a more positive perspective. That doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly feel better about the disappointment. In fact, don’t shove those feelings away and ignore them; you just want to make a little room so that they can coexist with positive feelings about something you do like. If you’ve really given yourself 24 hours to be pissed off, you should be ready to take a break and look at something else for a while.
Once you’ve identified how this new situation can support your goals, write them out and keep them handy. Your disappointment isn’t going to disappear any time soon and it might very well get exacerbated; you want to be able to to refocus yourself when that happens and remember why you’re doing this. Having an accessible visual around that you can stare at while the tide of rage comes in will help make those times more manageable.
What the heck happened?
Now that you’re back on track to pay attention to what’s important (your goals), pull out that list of the top 10 things about this negotiation that pissed you off. Read it over, then ask yourself the following:
Are there any themes?
Most situations don’t self destruct because 14 random things happened inexplicably. More often negotiations go south because a particular problem or issue was ignored long enough that it had the time to turn into something that couldn’t be dealt with quickly or easily.
In reviewing your notes with a bit more distance, can you see any themes in what you’re frustrated by? If so, try to figure out what those themes are related to; a particular person? A particular issue in the negotiation? One of your interests? One of theirs?
Once the theme is identified, pretend you’re starting from square one again. With the benefit of hindsight, what could you have done differently during the negotiation to address that theme?
Then, more importantly, are any of the themes ones that could apply to other negotiations you might have? If so, is there anything you might do to mitigate against them? Barring that, is there anything that will help you better recognize when they are negatively impacting something you’re trying to accomplish? Yes? Write it down & use it.
Is there anything that might help improve this situation going forward?
In reviewing your notes, you might discover that every time you had to talk with Bob, things dissolved into fits and accusations. What does that tell you? DON’T WORK WITH BOB.
Which is great advice if you have the option to not work with Bob, but what if you don’t?
Well, first off, remind yourself when you’re getting frustrated with Bob that this happens and it’s just part of the process, but it’s not worth focusing all your energy on.
Next, figure out what influences Bob. Does he behave better when Selma’s in the room? Then make sure she’s at meetings you have with Bob. If he wants folks to know how hard he’s working, help him get recognition when he deserves it.
Did you make assumptions?
80% of the time I’m disappointed in how something turns out it’s because of the assumptions I made. Figuring out where those assumptions came from help me better understand who to trust, how to gather information and how to be aware of my own biases in a negotiation.
Do you need to yell at someone?
Sometimes you absolutely have to tell someone that what they did was unacceptable. Fear of confrontation be damned, you cannot let this person ever repeat their behavior. If that’s the case, talk to the person now, not later. Do it respectfully, but forcefully, and before they have the opportunity to repeat their mistake.
Leaving Things Better Than You Found Them
The goal through all of this is not to learn to get over being disappointed. Like all other emotional reactions, being disappointed in how something turns out can teach you a lot about the situation and help you avoid similar fates in the future.
To get to a place where you can learn from what happened, you have to have room to think about more than the fact that you’re hurt and angry. This approach to dealing with disappointment tries to help you make that room without having to excuse someone’s behavior or sing “Kumbayah” in rounds.
I am a big believer that every situation, no matter how frustrating or mundane, gives you the opportunity to learn something. By focusing on positive things that you control (your goals) and systematically reviewing what happened, you can increase the likelihood that you’ll walk away with your One Thing.