Q&A

I got to teach a workshop at GeekGirlCon last weekend and had a lot of fun! I’m always a little bit nervous about the kind of crowd I’ll get at a convention; negotiation seminars aren’t usually what folks are looking for at a con.

I shouldn’t have worried; the GeekGirlCon crowd was awesome!

They came out in force and asked a ton of great questions. Such great questions, in fact, that I thought I’d share them with you.

Question #1: Can you have a made-up back up plan?

You absolutely can. It is a horrible idea.

Back up plans, BATNAs, are tools to help you in a negotiation. They allow you to determine how good an offer really is (if the offer is worse than your BATNA, you know you can walk away). Back up plans are also helpful if you want to let the other side know that they aren’t the only game in town and you’ll be a-OK no matter what they do.

Basically, a back up plan is your ticket out of a bad negotiation and to the best deal you can get.

If you have a fake back up plan, one that you can’t really use, it’s not a real tool.

If you can’t use your back up plan, you will stay in a bad negotiation longer than you should because you’ll feel trapped. You’ll feel trapped because with a fake back-up plan, you are. No back up plan = no way out.

A back up plan is a life line out of the negotiation if you aren’t getting what you need. You want that life line to be real and dependable. So spend the time and make real, viable back-up plans for your negotiations.

Question #2: How do you talk with peers or future clients about bad past experiences without sounding unprofessional?

I talk a lot about the importance of participating in your community and making sure you talk to your peers about good and bad experiences. So how do you do that and not come off sounding bitter?

There is a difference between talking about your hurt and talking about what happened.

Talking about your hurt — how pissed off you are that you got screwed over, how desperately you hope your former client suffers from a persistent and extreme case of food poisoning — is for a limited audience. A limited not-on-the-internet audience of your friends and family.

Venting over drinks or dinner is important catharsis and you shouldn’t shy away from it. But it’s not for a general audience.

Factually talking about what happened though, is different.

Talking about what happened means talking without embellishment and without anger. It means you just share information but you don’t make statements about whether the other person is good or bad. It’s reporting without the color commentary.

If someone online is talking about a client that you’ve had a bad experience with: “I’ve worked with that client in the past; I’d be happy to talk to you about my experience.”

If that person is at a party and you’re talking one-on-one: “I had a bad experience with them; you might have a difference experience. This is what happened to me so you can avoid it.”

If you’re talking with a potential client about a bad past experience, “In the past this issue has created confusion for other clients, and I want to make sure we avoid that in this situation.”

Question #3: When negotiating timelines, how do you deal with someone who is slowing things down and telling everyone you’re the jerk for trying to stick to the timeline?

This was a question from a woman and it is a problem I hear about from women fairly often. Working with a predominately male group, they’ll be in charge of the timeline, one guy will be the slow poke and as soon as the woman pushes that guy to speed up, she’s being called a bitch.

It is by no means an issue limited to women, though. I’ve seen plenty of guys stuck in a similar situation.

First off: You aren’t a bitch, so to extent that it is possible, remind yourself that this person is angry, likely at himself, and he’s lashing out at the nearest person he can find. Unfortunately, that person happens to be you.

Second: Remember that anger begets anger so no mater how much you are in the right, unless you want this to blow up into a Super Angry party, it does not behoove you to lash back at him with anger.

Third: Separate the actor from his audience. You’ll need to talk to this guy, but talking to him in front of a group of people isn’t a good idea. The audience will either (a) give him someone to put on a show for, or (b) embarrass him, or (c) both. So talk to him in a manner that will help him save face. If talking to him alone has proven difficult in the past, bring along someone he trusts.

Benefits of the doubt go a long way to settling problems. Assume, at first, that he isn’t trying to be a jerk-face and use the following, “Jim, we need to hit this timeline and I realize you’re upset every time I bring it up. Help me understand what’s frustrating you; I’d like to help you avoid that problem if I can.”

“Help me understand” is a peace offering because it communicates that you care and are willing to be on their side. Sometimes meeting a deadline is causing a cascade of other problems; if you know what they are, you’ll be better able to figure out a solution to the timeline problem.

If you’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and they’re still being a jerk here are a couple things you can do:

Identify whom they trust most in the group and have that person talk to them. Disappointing someone who is annoying you is one thing; disappointing someone you respect is totally different.

Let them know your next stop is the manager. There is no reason you have to carry the heavy load on your own when it’s being weighed down by someone who is being an intentional jerk. If you’ve tried to fix the problem, given them the chance to improve and the problems still persist, ask for help from your manager or whomever is next up the ladder.

Thanks to everyone who came to the workshop at GeekGirlCon! I enjoyed getting to meet so many of you after the workshop and appreciated all the great questions. This post just scratches the surface!

I’m working on ways of bringing my workshops to the masses via this new thing called The InterWebs™. First step on my road to FancyPants comes next week with the unveiling of a brand new spiffy website. Kate from Outbox Online designed it for me and it’s ammaaaazzing! Do come back to check it out!

Categories: Dealing with People

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Tags: BATNA, communication, Freelance, Negotiation, practical advice, problem solving, Psychology, strategy


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