Good Advice #3: Getting Back on Track

After spending a couple hours diligently planning for a negotiation, writing out your interests, and figuring out different back up plans, do you nevertheless end up in the middle of a negotiation that feels like two dogs fighting over a bone?  All those good intentions of focusing on interests are thrown out the window because, dammit, the other person is being an asshat about the damn thingy-ma-bob.

You aren’t alone.

“I recently found myself in a hell of a negotiation with a client.  While I was preparing for our conversation, I felt confident that I could stick to my guns; I knew why I wanted what I wanted out of the job and I felt I’d done a pretty good job of feeling out their interests.  But when he rejected my offer and nearly blew up at me for making it, I got pissed, and it quickly devolved into a fight over my cost, not what the job was about. I couldn’t seem to get myself back on track to talking about interests and I gave into negotiating over positions, his number vs. my number. I’m 97% sure that if I could have talked about our interests, I could have gotten a much better deal for myself.

What could I have done to get back on track after things blew up?”

Most people negotiate over positions.  Negotiating over positions is easy because you don’t have to prepare much for it, you don’t have to take in new information and produce creative alternatives, and you don’t have to listen to the other person: you just have to have a position.

By TimmyGUNZ via

A negotiation that is focused on a thing is a negotiation over a position: a rate, a particular timeline, or the appropriate use of Helvetica.  The problem with negotiating over things is that things don’t really do much for us.  We have reasons that we want what we want.  Nine times out of ten, if we can satisfy the reason we want something, our interest, we don’t care about the particulars of how we get it.

If you are having problems remembering your interests or articulating them to the other person, take the position you’re arguing for and ask yourself, “If I got this, what would it mean?”

Would you be able to do something you want to do?  Would you avoid doing something you’re not interested in?  Does it give you opportunities you don’t have right now?  Does it further a relationship that’s important to you?

If you can answer the question “Why do I want this?” you can get back to your interests.  Once you’re back there, you can tell the other person why a particular offer is unacceptable to you. “Russ, if I work at the rate you’re asking on this project, I lose money.  The timeline you need me to meet would require me to turn down a project with a higher rate than you’re offering and I can’t justify that.”

If they’re focused on interests and aren’t letting go, ask them why they want what they want.  This can be tricky because you don’t want to sound like an after school special; “Tell me Jack, how does it make you feel when I tell you your demands are BS?”

By Speshul Ted via

You need them to tell you why they want their position.  Unfortunately, a large part of what they want in this exact moment is for you to accept their offer – so if you flat out ignore the offer, you’re in trouble.  So you need to ask questions that tell them you heard what they said and that you need more information.

“What would it mean for you if we agreed on this timeline/rate/layout?”

“How does the timeline/rate/layout impact the rest of your project?”

“What can’t you do if you agree to the timeline/rate/layout I’ve requested?”

These are all fancy ways of asking “Why do you want that?”  If you hit upon a way that feels natural to you, use it!  Sometimes the “why” is buried deep and you may need more than a round or two of questions to really understand their interests. But once you know why they want what they want, it will be much easier to talk about solutions that work well for both of you.

Being able to step back during an argument over positions and ask “why?” will get you back on track to coming up with creative, collaborative solutions.


Do you have a negotiation situation that’s got you flummoxed?  Email me about it at workmadeforhire at and be part of the Good Advice series!

Featured image by hellojenuine. via

Categories: Good Advice, Good Advice Posts

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