Women, you’ve heard me get on my pulpit and preach about how you need to invoke your Momma bear for your own inner bear cub. How we advocate relentlessly for others, but not so much for ourselves. You’ve heard me rail about trusting your natural negotiation style and pushing past limiting beliefs to get what you want from the boardroom to the bedroom. And I meant it. But if you’re prone to motion sickness, you may want to grab a chair, or better yet, something bolted down so you don’t get dizzy from an apparent 180 degree turnabout. Because today, my sermon is designed to convince you that you don’t always need to go for the jugular.
Bear with me. These philosophies are not as contradictory as they may first appear. Let’s start with some fundamental principles. One of the basic teaching points on the art of negotiation is to always set a reservation price or resistance point – a bottom line. Without this anchor to hold you, you risk sliding past your point of no return. There are any number of tactics the pundits advise you employ to hold firm on your reservation price or point. Making pie in the sky demands, presenting a first and final offer, providing an ultimatum or walking away are just a few examples.
An equally important, but often overlooked principle, however, is to consider the zone of potential agreement – the area where both sides can get what they want if they each go to their respective reservation or resistant points. If there is no overlap, then there won’t be an agreement unless one side budges from its reservation or resistance point. But typically, there is a range of possible settlement options that fall within both sides’ bottom line positions. We’re conditioned to believe that an effective negotiator will always push to the absolute limit of the other side’s resistance point, and beyond if possible.
And therein lies the rub. The myth that strong negotiators need to chafe against the opposing standpoint, to create friction to burn through the opposing view. A lesson I learned later than I would have liked, is that you don’t always have to go for the jugular, leave nothing on the table, leave blood on the floor, or whatever other apt cliché comes to mind. You don’t necessarily have to push the other side to their drop-dead bottom line. Let me give you an example to illustrate the point. When I was younger, I fell in love with Mexico. I loved its people, the food, the culture, its nightlife. Everything seemed alive, vibrant and sharper. I loved to haggle on the beach with locals peddling their wares. And I was a great haggler. I seemed to have an instinct for knowing the outside limit to which I could push. I let them walk away, somehow knowing they’d come back. Friends always thought my ‘reservation price’ (although we didn’t call it that – didn’t even know the term or concept except instinctually) was ridiculous and unattainable. But I virtually always got what I wanted at my bottom line price (which was sometimes as little as 20% of asking price). I was proud of my bargaining prowess.
As a starving student, that was forgivable. But later in life, it suddenly struck me that I didn’t need to get the rock bottom price the peddler was prepared to accept. That there was a power imbalance and maybe my insistence on beating them down to the bottom line and beyond was actually a little exploitative. I was embarrassed about my past negotiation ‘victories’. Because ultimately isn’t negotiation often about relationship? Would you want to take advantage of bargaining power as against your child? Or aging parent? Or trusting lover?
It’s important for a seasoned negotiator to consider these factors in determining how far and how hard to push in any negotiation: (i) your goals and objectives (not just short-term, but long-term as well), (ii) your power compared to the other party’s, and (iii) your desired relationship with the other party. Ironically, these are all factors that most women intuitively consider when they come at negotiations from a place of natural feminine energy. In my blog, “Debunking the Myth re Women and the Art of Negotiation”, we talked about the key skill sets required of an effective negotiator. Assertiveness is only one factor. The others are rapport-building, empathy, flexibility, intuition and trustworthiness. Knowing when to back off and accept a deal somewhere in the potential zone of agreement, without pushing the other side to their edge, can be effective to build rapport and trust. It requires empathy and intuition. It takes flexibility in the heat of a negotiation. In other words, knowing when to back off employs all the key ‘feminine’ attributes of a great negotiator. Use them. Trust those instincts.
Does that mean you should never bear down and push to the tissue-paper thin edge? Of course not. The key is knowing when … and why. The trick is to be intentional in those choices. Learn to control the essential skills so you can adopt them at will. So you can use them strategically. If you need to establish primacy, credibility and/or control in a particular negotiation to set the tone for future negotiations in a relationship, or to make a point, or example of someone who tried to take advantage of you or your ‘team’, then you may well want to step down hard and not let up.
By all means go for the jugular where necessary. But ensure that your approach is deliberate. Don’t be reactive, governed by emotion. And don’t be motivated based on stale-dated myths that negotiation is all about the bite or that giving is a sign of weakness. Sometimes, generosity in negotiations can be your greatest show of strength.