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July 20, 2010

My name is La Roxy, and I am scared to negotiate

I just finished the first session of the 4-week long She Negotiates seminar.

It was a total, how you say, mindfooque. Those 90 minutes have taught me as much as I've learned in months of asking.

My classmates were a mix of experienced and fresh negotiators from a variety of fields, and a mix of salaried employees and entrepreneurs. We learned some negotiation and conflict resolution theory, but the most rewarding aspect in this first session was the role-playing.

They paired us off, and the assignment was simple: Pretend you're negotiating a salary/raise or offering a service for a fee. If you're being asked, your job is to say no. If you're asking, your job is to get the other side to say yes. Then switch sides with your partner.

Easy enough.

They paired us off, rang the start bell and...

I froze.

I have asked for something everyday for a year. I asked an employer to restore a fired woman's job. I have asked a stranger if I could try on his cartoon costume head. I've negotiated a lower rent, better hotel rates, discounted catering. But when it came to this informal salary chat with abstract results in a fake conference room, I couldn't find the words to save my life.

"Hi, um, please turn to page 13 of the proposal where you'll see the proposal, I mean the quote, I came up with, which is a great value for your company... gag. Cough!"

Fortunately, I was paired with a savvy and persuasive partner, and when it was her turn to ask for a fee for her company's services, I was able to see how it's done right.

What I discovered:

1. Mental and emotional preparation are essential. I wasn't mentally prepared to negotiate something that moment, for whatever reason, and I had no idea what or how to pitch my service and fee. Sure, the assignment was impromptu and I'd normally be more prepared, but it's useful to remember what a poor mental or emotional state does to your negotiation: utter devastation.

2. Factual preparation is just as essential. What does the other side want? What do you have to offer? Bring all that to the table.

3. Pitching is a part of negotiating. Rather than just stating, "Hi, I'd like $200 for this service," I could have incanted, "This package includes A, B, C, D -- and A and B in particular are proven to help clients do Y and Z. Our competitors charge $250 and $300, so by choosing our $200 subscription you're getting the best deal out there." Sure, we had 3 minutes (i.e. barely enough time to say hello, let alone make a deal) -- but my partner built in a pitch long before she talked about price. She was persuasive, and she spent a chunk of time describing the benefits her services would bring my company. I was ready to hire her.

4. It's a lot easier the second time. We paired up again at the end of the course, after learning about some strategies, and that time I was prepared, I had a plan, and just as importantly perhaps, I had established a rapport with the other party. All that translated into more confidence and better communication skills.

5. Considering points 3 and 4, it makes a lot of sense to practice! Negotiate when it matters and negotiate when it doesn't.

6. You're never too experienced to keep learning. My partner introduced herself as a CEO. A CEO is taking a negotiation seminar with moi??!! She is already clearly a pro. Yet she knows there are areas she should strengthen. (My guess: that's exactly why she's a good negotiator: she never stops reaching.)

Though I started this post on a down note, I do have some good news to report: today I landed a client I really wanted. I asked for a certain compensation level and the client agreed without blinking an eye.

Pro: Charging the amount I did would have been unthinkable before I started this business six-months ago. Enough successes and enough failures at the rate negotiation table have finally paid off. I was confident when I priced the services and confident in our meeting. Double score.

Con: Given the quick assent, maybe I should have asked for more? After this course is over and I land future clients, I certainly shall.

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