The Key to Successful Negotiations

Imagine someone you think is a great negotiator.  Do you imagine a tough-as-nails, take-no-shit hardballer?  Do you imagine a sleazy salesman who wheedles their way into your mind and gets you to agree to something you don’t want?  A free-wheeler chatty type who “only wants your best interests”? None of these are helpful to you. What you need to imagine is Tyrion Lannister.  You want to be dispassionate, practical, and professional.

I have seen negotiations go seriously off the rails.  I have even seen offers for faculty positions retracted by administrators.  The reason these happen are ego and emotion. People take things personally, they perceive slights where none may be intended, they become irrational, and then everyone loses.  Before you negotiate, you have to decide what you NEED and what you WANT. From there, it should be a professional, factual, and positive experience.

When you negotiate, your interests are not the sole consideration.  You must also take into account your current colleagues, your current institution, your future colleagues, and your future institution.  A successful negotiation is sympathetic to all of these five interests. If you want something, it is much better to shape it in the context of one of these other interests than your own.  For example, if you want a piece of equipment, it should be clear that this is for the benefit of your future institution and colleagues as well as for you. If you want a spousal hire, this is for the benefit of your future institution because it will ensure you are a loyal, dedicated employee who will stick around and be appreciative.

So, decide what you NEED.  State these clearly, unemotionally, factually, and in the context of how it benefits someone other than you, if possible.  If you don’t get what you NEED, calmly explain that you cannot accept the offer but you greatly appreciate it.

Then decide what you WANT.  Again, state these clearly, but you may use softening language such as, “It would be easiest for me to accept if given XYZ.”  If you don’t get what you WANT but you get what you NEED, accept, be grateful, and be happy. Don’t be resentful you didn’t get everything you wanted and don’t be ungrateful.

Ask for everything you want UP FRONT.  Don’t ask for XYZ, then get that, and then you come back with, “Oh, can I also have This and That and The Other Thing?”  Now, if they don’t give you X, you can come back with, “Well, can I have U instead?” But if they give you what you ask for initially, the negotiation is done.

It should go without saying: be sincere.  I have to say it, though, because I see people negotiate who are not sincere and it is supremely frustrating.  If you don’t want the position, don’t bother negotiating. Don’t bluster and threaten and lie. At all times, be genuine to yourself and to the situation.  No one wants to feel like they have been cheated- institutions or applicants. If you are factual and dispassionate, this should be easy, but it bears repeating: do not lie.

When in doubt, be clear, be positive, and be factual.  Take emotion and ego out of the equation. During one negotiation I had, my wife didn’t get a position which was open as the same institution.  I could have ranted and raved that they missed out on an easy spousal hire, but instead I approached the department chair and calmly said, “OK, that didn’t work out.  What can we do to make this successful?” And then they made it happen. Just be a goddamn professional about it and you will be so much better off.

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