Are You Approaching Negotiating Like the Life Skill It Is?

Do you tend to only think about negotiating when you’re negotiating something you consider to be a “big deal?”

If yes, then note: I’m aiming to change this perspective.

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen a video I posted a few weeks ago. In it, I share a story to illustrate the power of last month’s theme, “What do you want to be known for?,” and how it led to a speaking engagement in record time for the corporate space. 

Thanks to a Google search (!), the firm reached out to me via my website’s contact form on March 30th. Between my website and our subsequent phone conversation, I was able to express my message and brand and how I would approach the presentation topic. Clearly my perspective and style resonated with them, as I spoke for them last week. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, since the focus of my presentation was the same as this month’s theme: negotiating.

I kicked off my presentation with them the same way I’m kicking off my conversation with you today: 

I believe you negotiate every day in every way. 

And when you don’t pay attention to how you negotiate the matters you consider to be “low” stakes, you miss out on how to get better at negotiating when the stakes are “high.” 

Negotiating is the focus of this month’s Comfort Circle™ dinner. If you’d like to join us, you can get on the waitlist here. 

It’s also what we’ll be talking about over the next few weeks.

Let’s begin with what I see as parallels between negotiating and selling: 

How in the world did two activities that are considered by many to be critical life-skills become things some smart, high-achieving people downplay? (Side-note: I did an anonymous poll during last week’s presentation, and 44% of the attendees self-selected “accommodate/downplay” as their dominant negotiating style.)

How is it that many people have an either “love it or hate it” relationship with negotiating and selling?  

How is this despite the fact that these are activities with which you are engaged, to some degree,  on a daily basis. 

On any given day, you may find yourself pitching an idea, selling a solution in the form of a service or product, or persuading someone to go to your favorite restaurant. 

On any given day, you may be trying to resolve a conflict or get a better deal. Or, you may be attempting to preserve what you have already.

Are You Born With It?

Today, I can see clearly the connection between negotiating and selling. 

But let me not front and behave (a) as if this has always been the case, and (b) that I’ve always been good at either. 

I only consider myself good at negotiating and selling now, because over the years I’ve gotten better at asking for what I want (not just what I think I can get). I got better at asking for what I want because I am more comfortable in my skin and feel more deserving. 

Do you see where I’m going with this?

One way to get better at negotiating and selling is to change your relationship with asking for what you want. And more than likely, this will involve working on your relationship with yourself.

(Can I get an amen!)

Some of you reading this have always been good at plainly, directly, and compassionately asking for what you really want. For others of you, this remains a life-long challenge. 

One of the reasons I framed the section title as a question is because, if you think about it, if you view negotiating and selling as asking for what you want, you actually have been doing it since birth. 

If you’re hungry and want to be fed, you cry. You get fed.

If you’re wet, you cry. Your pamper gets changed.

If you want to feel comforted, you cry. You get held and you feel the warmth of connection.

As you age, the way you express what you want and need evolves. And so does the response to your requests. And so do your relationships – with others and yourself. 

And so does how you respond when you begin to realize you have the power to respond to someone’s ask of you. You recognize the role you play in helping someone else fulfill a want or need of theirs. 

That gap in time plays a key role in how you close the gap in getting what you want and need. 

For example, I sold shoes in high school at the “high-end” store in my town’s shopping mall. In college, I sold make-up behind the Clinique counter at Bloomingdale’s. After those experiences, when I graduated I swore I would never sell again. Oh, the naivete of youth… 

Like most (women) college graduates, I didn’t negotiate my first salary in 1986. But I boldly did so during my first performance evaluation at Bankers Trust. However, I was told I was too aggressive. Ouch! Thankfully, I was there nearly a decade and in that time I worked up the nerve that I lost when I was told “no” at the tender age of twenty-one.

My point: The things we naturally do without realizing we’re doing them – that are indeed life-skills – get shaped and re-shaped by our experiences over time and the people in our lives (personally and professionally) associated with those experiences. The same is true for the things we learn we (should) do.

I have more to say with regards to negotiating, especially in terms of focusing on the human side of it. But for today I want to leave you with…

Something (else) to think about:

What if we took a cue from the disciplines of medicine and law? Ever notice how they always say, “practice medicine” or “practice law?” Wherever you are currently in your relationship with negotiating, there’s always room for improvement. This is true with all skills. And when it comes to negotiating, treating it as a skill also helps you to avoid under-valuaing it when the stakes are “low,” and over-valuing it when the stakes are “high.”

Something to do: 

I invite you to reflect on what you negotiated today. What were you negotiating; with whom? How did the experience make you feel (excited, scared, ambivalent)? Was it regarding something you wanted or needed? Who held the power? If you, how did you exercise it?

What did you notice?

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