I hate negotiating.
If I can pass it off to Mr. Magpie or — better yet — avoid it full-stop, I will, usually to my own detriment or material loss, in that I end up paying more than I should or under-compensated for one reason or another.
Negotiating feels like subterfuge and bluff — a dishonest business. Mr. Magpie routinely re-orients me in a different way of seeing negotiation: as a reconciling of two different agendas. And in this sense, it is more about consensus-building than treachery–even, if we are especially bright-eyed on the topic, about achieving fairness in a transaction.
Still, any time Mr. Magpie nudges me to ask a service provider to knock off a couple hundred dollars or follow up with a customer service representative seeking remuneration for a poor experience, I hem and haw and grit my teeth.
He has lots of advice, culled from years of negotiating as an entrepreneur, leading sales teams back during his Groupon days, and serving as our principle home business manager.
1// “Never make the first offer.” Better to have the other party throw something out first and negotiate up, lest you underestimate them. This can be highly awkward in my experience, as more seasoned negotiators will cut in with: “What price are you thinking?” right off the bat. And then finding an elegant way to flip the conversation back over to them takes some maneuvering. Fortunately, words are my trade and I have usually found my way around it. (“Well, as I said, we’ve received a few bids lower than yours and want to understand what sets you apart and whether you can come down to a fairer price. What would you be willing to do?”) Separately, this particular adage is especially true when going to a customer service representative. Don’t ask for something specific right off the bat, i.e., “can you refund shipping to make up for the late arrival”? Instead: “What can you do to rectify the situation?” I have been shocked by some of the generosity of some of the results–sometimes even a full refund on the order!
2// “Counter low, knowing that they’ll probably come back and ask for something slightly higher.”
3// “Don’t put words in their mouths.” This is a tough one for me, as I tend to fill in blanks and presuppose conditions. Something like “I’m sure it would be hard for you to get this done on a Saturday, but…” should be erased from the conversation. If there’s an issue — even one you see a mile away — have them bring it up. And “Since I can’t do x, would y suffice?” should be replaced with: “I can’t do x. What else would work?”
Oh, but these tactics drain me and leave me feeling as though I’m not expressing myself organically, like I’m lumbering around a mine-field with a fifty-pound backpack strapped to me. Meanwhile, Mr. Magpie is alight with a kind of adrenaline-fueled brilliance when he’s strategizing in this way.
But there is something important I have learned recently, amidst the minutiae and logistics of this move, that has unlocked a new, more quiet negotiating power within me:
It’s a simpler way of thinking about negotiating, and it’s made me feel far more comfortable with the framework. It’s just a question. A harmless string of words followed by the most optimistic punctuation mark there is in the English language. The recipient can rebuff the entreaty, but there is rarely any harm or foul that can befall the transaction.
“But the proposal says it will cost $3,000. So. It costs $3,000. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. If I go back and ask them to drop the price, I’ll be going against some rubric somewhere, or breaking some immutable precedent, or hurting their feelings, or insinuating that we don’t really need the service, or coming off as cheap, or –“
Where were all these rules and subtexts written?
I think, too, that when I am in a situation where I want something done (i.e., ahem, a lease to be signed), I worry that negotiating will protract and complicate the transaction in a way that imperils my overall objective.
But truly, my friends, everything is negotiable. And most of the time, people expect a counter.
What’s more, I am usually in a position where a service provider is trying to sell me something, and they have a lot more to lose if I walk than the other way around. So my fear of somehow alienating the seller or souring the deal is grossly misplaced.
At any rate, I have turned a corner by thinking about negotiating as an opportunity to ask a question — not make a heated demand. It calms me to think: “They can always decline, but I should at least make known what I would like. I have that right.”
I have been frankly astounded by some of the results I have gotten. With one vendor, for example, I asked, rather baldly and out-of-the-blue: “I’m impressed with your service and would like to use you over some of the competitors we are considering. But would you be willing to drop the price by a few hundred dollars? That would make my decision very easy.” There was a pause. A brief consultation with her manager. And then: “Sure. We can do that.”
Just because I asked. Just like that.
I leave this here because I think (and I hope not to step on any toes here) that women have particular trouble working up the courage to negotiate. Whether it’s your salary or the cut of work you find on your plate or the cost of your refrigerator repair — it can be hard to pony up the energy and chutzpah to ask for the plum deal you want. But try my tack on for size. Re-consider the negotiation as an exercise in question-asking. It’s just a question!
Examples might be:
For salary (I used this exact formula multiple times, to 100% positive outcomes):
“I am flattered by this offer, but would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t ask whether you can come up in base salary?”
For division of labor at work:
“I’m especially good at x, but would you be able to help with y?” or “I have x, y, and z on my plate and am trying to make sure I’m prioritizing things helpfully. If you need z done sooner, do you want to tackle it yourself so I can get through x and y?”
For things like home repair:
“I’d like to have you do this work for me, but am considering a few other vendors. Can you drop the price a little or honor a 10% discount so we can move forward?”
Of course, none of these are foolproof and I still occasionally find myself shaky with nerves when I go out on a limb. But taking a deep breath and remembering that you’re just extending a question takes some of the pressure off.
What are your tips for negotiating?
+I’d forgotten about this product until I found it at the bottom of my makeup bag — but it is a really, really good highlighting powder that can be used for subtle glow all over your face in order to set tinted moisturizer/concealer/foundation.
+Obsessing over these shades.
+Intermix always has a good sale going: I’m loving their on-trend white denim (pair with a chunky cardigan, unbuttoned to there, for an of-the-moment look), this stunning evening gown, and this fun dress for vacation this winter.
+A pretty blouse. (Love those bows!)
+These earrings are major! Obsessed!
+A simple, rustic vase for taller stems (on super sale).
+Hunting for some new sconces for our new apartment (more on outfitting the new digs to come soon) — and how cool are these sconce shade covers?!
+Love this sweater-coat. I’d wear it with white jeans and Chanel flats.