173 - The negotiating trick few talk about


career designleadership and org culture

Negotiations are won by whoever cares less. We know this in our bones, yet tune it out too often.

In March, my wife and I decided to adopt a dog. Through a friend, we found a shelter that housed strays, of whom we were drawn to one in particular. As part of the process, we had to answer a detailed questionnaire.

Where is the nearest vet to your house? Is it okay to feed your dog chocolate? If so, which brand of chocolate? Does the house have a door / gate? Is there a chance that the dog can run away from the house without any supervision? Do you or anyone in the family have any allergies? * Need not be related to animals - but mention all Is it okay to feed your dog Chinese food? If no, why?

They all seem to be trick questions, I told my wife.

The home visits and phone conversations that followed checked for our level of knowledge and intent alright but they presumed us, prospective pet parents, guilty until proven innocent. The line of questioning was directed at us in a way that made us feel inadequate. Despite the fact that we had had a pet for more than a decade until last year, we found ourselves on the defensive during the two-week trial period. We didn’t want to be deemed unfit as pet parents, so we turned our attention to proving our worthiness. We missed counter-checking. I don’t think our decision to bring Navya home would’ve changed but for sure we would’ve been better prepared for her anxiety, gut issues, and fussy eating.

Every negotiation is an exchange. Each party has to both sell and buy for the act to be complete. Until then, one party is winning at the other’s expense.

Think of your first job interview. You probably were keener to land a job than the employer was to fill up a vacancy. So, you pulled out all stops to convince the interviewer of the value you brought to the table. In the process, where did your attention go?

Probably to all the things that made you awesome for the job. But what about the things that would make the employer awesome for you? Did you spend enough time sizing up what you were buying?

Back in the day when I would do scores of interviews, I would ask candidates if they had any questions for me, the hiring manager. Many, if not most, would pass up that chance.

When we’re desperate, we tend to spend more time selling what we have to the other party than evaluating the value of what we want to have from the other party.

Perhaps you get this today having cut your teeth at a few jobs. Still, from time to time, depending on your level of confidence and assessment of market value, you find yourself slipping into that old version of you. As a job seeker, this puts you at risk in two ways.

You are making important career decisions without using all the information available. Because you’re fixated on selling, you’ve limited bandwidth for factors beyond the tangibles—culture, your team, your boss, et cetera. This part, once spotted, is easier to fix. You can solicit more opinions, ask better questions, and do better due diligence.

The second risk is more subtle. If you’re not paying attention, it can sneak up under you.

Your interviewer can get you to devote your energy toward proving your legitimacy and by doing so shield what they feel they need to, to protect the company’s legitimacy. By casually dropping mentions about the number of applicants or putting you through rigorous stress tests or citing handpicked indicators of success, they can get you to play the game by their rules.

You have to do the song and dance; they get to watch. You have to prove yourself; they get to pick. You have to wait; they get to decide. Have to and get to. Obligation and option. You don’t want the burden of an obligation; you want the option of being able to walk away if you don’t feel right.

What your interviewer is doing, knowingly or not, is a neat neurological trick. By throwing down the gauntlet, they’re evoking fear in you. Fear, like other negative emotions such as anger or disgust, narrows your focus. All you can now think of is, “I gotta show them I’m up for the challenge.” You miss wondering if the prize of employment with them is worth it.

As the job seeker, don’t assume a potential employer’s credentials are beyond scrutiny. Don’t act as if there’s no doubt about the value of what they’re offering.

Negotiations are won by whoever cares less about what they’re selling and more about what they’re buying.

Next time, you find yourself in a negotiation where you feel the odds are stacked against you, turn the game on its head. Shed your assumptions about the exchange. Stop selling. Make yourself harder to get. Make the other side pursue you. They’re probably used to being pursued. This is new to them. If you do it well, you may create an illusion of control.

They say the best chance to survive an encounter with a lion is to stand your ground and look the lion in the eye. The lion isn’t used to being resisted. You may not always win but that’s your best chance.

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