How good are you at negotiating? I recently had the chance to test my negotiating skills, and in the course of doing some research, found some tips to pass along that can help anyone be better.

Right before the holidays, I received an inquiry from a meeting planner who wanted to discuss a speaking engagement with me at an IT sales conference with 500 attendees this spring in Los Angeles. Of course, the conversation included money. When I told her my standard keynote speaking rate, she said that was over her budget, but she really thought I would be perfect, and asked if would I consider doing the engagement at a lesser rate.

When I first began speaking I sought out the counsel of no less than nine busy, successful, full-time, professional keynote speakers, and to a person, one of the first things they all told me was to maintain integrity around my rates, whatever they are. 

Because, they said, all it takes is one gig at a lower rate, and pretty soon, your rates aren't really your rates, but merely a starting point for a negotiation. 

In the case of the L.A. event, I did have some extra incentive from my wife. She is from Southern California, and thought she could tag along and make a long weekend out of it to see friends and family after my event. 

So I told this meeting planner I would get back to her, and began to quickly prep myself on some of the finer points of negotiation. 

I came across this post from The Muse, written by Victoria Pynchon, an attorney who practiced commercial litigation for 25 years, before starting her own negotiating consulting and training company in 2010. She has been teaching negotiation and providing negotiation consulting services to lawyers, executives, professionals and entrepreneurs ever since.

Here are some of her tips. 

The Negotiation Doesn't Start Until Someone Says No

Pynchon says most of her clients have a fear of rejection. And that our reluctance to negotiate past “no” is even harder because both men and women miss the key point: It’s not really a negotiation if we’re asking for something we know our bargaining partner also wants. 

"Negotiation is a conversation whose goal is to reach an agreement with someone whose interests are not perfectly aligned with yours...'“No' signals an opportunity to problem-solve the conflicting and overlapping interests both parties want to serve."

Your Bargaining Partner Will Be Happier If You Make Concessions 

In experiment after experiment, Pynchon states, social scientists prove people are not particularly happy when they just get what they think they want. They’re happier when their bargaining partner makes a couple of concessions along the way. 

"If I ask for a 5% raise and my boss says 'yes' without hesitation, I generally suffer from buyer’s remorse, certain that if I’d asked for 7% or maybe even 10%, my bargaining partner would have given it to me."

It's Never About Money

Before negotiating any deal, take a look at the way in which you “value” money, Pynchon advises. Then ask your negotiation partner what they value, prefer, need, fear, and/or desire. 

"You’re apt to find yourself on the same page of value once you stop treating money as an objective measure of worth and start seeing it for what it is—a subjective experience that can make $1,000 act in the world as if it were $10,000."

Your Bargaining Strength Is All In Your Head

"The person who is perceived to have the least to lose is the person with the greatest bargaining advantage," Pynchon writes in her Muse post. "If you’re negotiating—that is, having a conversation leading to agreement, there is always something at stake for both parties...The more knowledge you have of the hidden interests and constraints under which your bargaining partner is operating, the more negotiation power you have, even in a 'seller’s' market."

Any Reason Is Far Better Than No Reason

Pynchon says this is the super secret of all great negotiators: "You don't have to prove something that justifies what you want; all you have to do is say it. When you're negotiating, you're not in a court of law. You're rarely making statements of fact that could land you in hot water for fraud if they prove to be untrue. You’re stating an opinion, and no less an authority than the Supreme Court of the United States has said there is no such thing as a false opinion."

So appearance is reality, right?


There is one last piece of advice Pynchon imparts, and I used it in my negotiation with the meeting planner. She says if you at least act as if you are prepared to walk away from a deal unless you achieve your desired goal, "your bargaining partner will be far more incentivized to meet your requirements or make serious problem solving efforts to create enough value so that both of you get what you most want."

Back to my speaking engagement. I wanted to do it, for lots of reasons, but I didn't have to take it. And I was willing to walk away. 

In the end, I came down a little, my negotiating partner found some more budget, and I booked the speech. And my wife is happy.

I don't think I am a particularly good negotiator, and I can't say I really enjoy the process. When all is said and done though, negotiation is just a conversation that leads to agreement. I'm good at conversation. And I love agreement. So maybe I'm better at it than I think. And maybe you are as well. 

Tags: The Muse, Negotiating, Victoria Pynchon