Why is it that some folks consistently negotiate better deals that are smoothly implemented by participants, while others seem to walk away from bargaining feeling fleeced and flummoxed?
I believe the level of contentment and overall satisfaction we leave negotiations with is roughly equivalent to the contentment with which we entered
Or, as author Robert Pirsig once mused, “The only Zen you’ll find at the top of a mountain is the Zen you brought up there with you!”
People who know themselves, have clear and sound goals, and are fundamentally at ease, comfortable in their skin so to speak, make the best negotiators. This flies in the face of our stereotype of the best bargainers; those sly, slick, and secretive souls that we may expect to meet at car dealerships or at opposing tables in a courtroom.
I teach negotiation in extension programs at UC Berkeley and UCLA, and I bring my techniques to private companies and to public agencies and nonprofits, as well.
Usually, folks that attend are grateful that they learn how to save money when buying, leasing, or even gracefully withdrawing from financial commitments to cars, homes, and the various loans that encumber them.
Attendees also learn how to be more astute businesspeople and to negotiate more pleasant and effective work rules with their organizational peers, bosses, and subordinates.
I present no fewer than 101 tips, or as the title of the course calls them, “Best Practices in Negotiation”(TM).
So, what’s the problem, especially if occasionally everyone checks the box on my evaluations saying “I WOULD recommend this class to other people”?
The problem is, no let me rephrase that, the challenge is that everyone that attends a class, reads a book, or listens to CD’s, is trying to negotiate more than a good deal here and there, though they may not be aware of it.
People are seeking BETTER LIVES.
Having a classier car or a tonier abode and a few custom threads can position you for an enhanced feeling of contentment, to be sure. But what is it that will be your ticket to the “BIG H,” to overall happiness?
And can this ineffable state of being result from your negotiation skills?
Not only can happiness be negotiated, but it must be, as I see it, especially if you want to be effective in your worldly negotiation encounters.
All effective negotiations start with self-negotiation, with doing what is commonly known as “goal-setting.”
What do you want from life and from the negotiation you’re about to enter?
What are you willing to accept? Is it the mere “get-by,” as Zig Ziglar labels the bare minimum?
Is a pittance sufficient for you?
Or, do you typically hold out for something substantially more advantageous in every department; a better job, better school, better health insurance? And occasionally, do you insist on receiving the very BEST available goods, services, and outcomes?
Let’s get personal.
Millions of folks find themselves trapped in damaging or deficient interpersonal relationships, from which they feel there is no release or escape. Day after day, week after week, and year after year, they stick it out in circumstances that are nothing less than punishing.
Very possibly they believe they deserve no better, and if they took their emotions into the relationship-marketplace, they’d strike out and be rewarded with an even worse bargain than what they’re fleeing from, at home.
These folks have a self-worth problem. They have at least tacitly, “negotiated” poorly in the space between their ears, placing a depressed value on their appeal. The result is an “I’m not worth very much” assessment that they wear on their sleeves that resembles a billboard to outsiders, including our fellow negotiators.
But before we pity them or dismiss their plight as something we cannot relate to, consider how we might be doing the very same thing, simply in different contexts.
You’ve been slaving away at a job that pays you far less than you’re worth. Why?
You’re driving a battered old car that bleeds you dry in repair costs and riddles you with fear of untimely breakdowns.
“But it’s paid for!” you justify.
Not really. It’s still depreciating as it ages, and those repair costs are payments, made to mechanics and to parts stores instead of to banks, but they constitute ongoing costs, nonetheless.
You could lease or purchase a great car for little more than the average monthly cost of repairs and gas guzzling. But you’re accepting your current, more miserable state as permanent.
About a year ago I was seeking a car, and I took a serious look at various iterations of the Ford Mustang. Since I was a kid, I’ve always admired their style and power, so I went shopping for a convertible.
I found what I sought, in sultry black-on-black. Cool ride!
When negotiations came around, I was dismayed to find that I’d have to cough up $500-$700 a month for a 36 month lease, given the equipment I wanted.
“At these prices,” I remember telling myself, “I could drive something BETTER!”
Despite my efforts to bring down the costs, I walked out of one Ford dealership after another. And they let me walk, gladly!
I took a look at the Mercedes-Benz web site. Lo and behold, I spotted a sleek, sexy CLK 350 Mercedes Convertible for only $595 per month, plus tax.
Incredible! Impossible! Unbelievable!
Within a few days I was driving one on a lease that requires only a 27 month commitment, not the 36 month term I was facing at Ford. Plus, the car I negotiated for is loaded with optional equipment. No extra charge!
The Mercedes is a $60,000 automobile, and the Mustangs I tested bill out at about
How can a Mercedes with a 50% higher price tag cost LESS?
Its lease price is lower because its resale value is comparatively much higher than the Mustang’s.
Am I happier with a high-status, high-performance, gas sipping Mercedes (30 mpg+ highway!) than with a nice, but not quite equal, Mustang?
What’s the moral to the story?
When you’re negotiating with yourself, setting goals, always at least ask yourself: “Can I do better than this?” Or, as Tony Robbins recommends, ask this question again and again: “How can I improve this?”
We sell ourselves short in countless other ways.
You know you should go back to school and finish that degree or certificate, but you’ve been procrastinating. With a higher credential, you could qualify for better jobs at your current company, and beyond.
But you’ve made a deal with yourself which is one of the worst kinds. It has no due date, no enforcement provisions, and no clear and substantial penalties for noncompliance.
You’ve told yourself, “I’ll get around to doing it-some day.”
Would you accept it for a moment if a boss said he’d pay you “something” when he “gets around to it”? Of course, you wouldn’t.
It’s preposterous, yet we cut these loosey-goosey deals with ourselves all the time, when we choose to procrastinate. And when we procrastinate, we’re aware of our self-sabotage, at least unconsciously, and we despise ourselves for it.
Feeling worse about ourselves, procrastination induces us to lower our performance standards, and to sap our expectations regarding what we can put into and get out of life.
What happens to you, if you place a low value on yourself and you suddenly find yourself negotiating not in your mind, with yourself as a partner, but you’re sitting across the table, negotiating with your boss for a raise in pay, or trying to get a loan from your banker?
How will you behave, and how does this differ from the moves that a happier, more confident, positive-imaged person will make?
(1) You’ll be likely to cave in on various positions, even if you’re only nudged gently.
(2) You’ll make concessions, without requiring concessions, in return.
(3) You’ll cut your prices too much and too fast, precipitating dire deals.
(4) You’ll agree on impossible terms, and then regret it.
(5) You’ll compromise your interests, without conscious awareness.
Boiling this down, happier negotiators are better negotiators. They’ve already done the essential preliminary work of straightening themselves out before they get underway with their negotiation counterparts.
And by winning at negotiating, they set into motion a positive cycle of achievement that makes them even more self-confident, while incentivizing them to set yet higher goals.
So, when and where do negotiations begin?
They always begin with us, with our goals, and with our self-image.
Align these properly, and you’ll probably be happy, arriving at and then leaving the negotiation table with more of what you really want and need.