I Choo-choo-choose You!

I want you to think of the most annoying person you’ve ever had to negotiate with.

Now think of the absolute best person you’ve ever negotiated with; your favorite negotiating partner.

Why were you negotiating with them?

No, not what were you negotiating about.  Why were you negotiating with that particular person?

You’re not alone if your answer is, “Because that’s who I was told to negotiate with.”

Negotiations can sometimes feel like arranged marriages: you and this person you just met share a lot of sensitive and important information with one another and hope like heck it works out.

Sometimes it works out brilliantly; like you’ve found your best match ever!

Other times you can be left feeling that if you’d worked with someone else, both of you would have been able to get a much better deal.

via blog.deconcept.com

You don’t have to settle for negotiating with just anyone; you can choose.

In fact, you’ll almost always get better results if you do choose.  Even if you end up choosing the person you started out with.

Know Yourself

How do you like to take in information?  What personality types frustrate you?  Are you a yeller?  Hate the phone?  Like small talk?  Believe numbers are your friends?

Before you figure out the best person for you to negotiate with, you need to know what you’re  like to negotiate with.  Know your strengths, your weaknesses, pet peeves and deep delights.

Being aware of how you work best will help you better identify what attributes are most attractive (that is, productive) in a negotiating partner.

Play the Field

Make yourself aware of who is in the organization you’re working for, how they fit in the company and how they relate to the project you’re working on.  You cannot choose who you’re going to negotiate with if you don’t know who’s playing.

I like finding the person within an organization whose interests are most compatible with helping me achieve what I want.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they want what I want.

That means what they want, and therefore, what they’re willing to work for, leads to an end result that also fulfills some of the things that I want.

So, for instance, I want to pay less for Thing X.

I can work with Bob whose commission is tied to the amount of Thing X that I buy.


Or I can work with Steven, whose commission is tied to when I buy Thing X, no matter how much I buy.


If I need 500 of Thing X but I don’t care when I get it, I want to negotiate with Bob.  If I need Thing X by tomorrow morning, I want to work with Steven.

I do not want to work with Bob when timing is an issue and Steven’s the wrong guy to call if I need a gross of Thing X three months from now.

But the only way I’m going to know that is if I’m talking to both Bob and Steven.

If I’m only talking to the person I was told to talk to, there is a very good chance that I’m missing out on talking to the person who can help me.

“But Katie,” you’re saying, “I don’t want to be a jerk.  If I’m supposed to work with Steven, how can I talk to Bob without creating Ridiculous Political Drama?”

Well, the first thing I would tell you is never set yourself up so you can only talk to one person.  Ask questions!

  • When starting a project ask about who is going to touch the project.  If you’re the client, find out who the people are that are responsible for getting you what you’re buying.  If you’re working for someone, be sure to ask what the project is being used for and if the folks using it have deadlines they’re running toward. Write those names down!
  • Ask who your contact person’s back-up person is; people get sick and go on vacation, if you don’t know who to call when that happens, that’s your fault.
  • When you get correspondence from your client, pay attention to who is cc’ed.  If those names don’t match the names you’ve written down previously, ask your contact who they are.
  • If your client is a company, one of your first questions/research projects should be finding out what their switch board number is.  And yes, I mean switch board; not their customer service number, not the number of the secretary that will drill you for your SSN before connecting you.  You want to know the number you can call and get connected to anyone in the company.  Asking for the “switch board,” antiquated as that might sound, will generally get you that number.

All of these questions can help you better understand who the players are, what they’re interested and who is going to be your best partner when you have to negotiate.  Plus, they’re nice, polite questions that people are inclined to answer.  That is, they’re all better than asking, “So who do I call when you screw up?”

The other thing you need to do is…

Be Honest

People aren’t dumb; they know when things aren’t working out.  Some people just don’t work well together.  It happens.

If that’s happening to you, chances are your negotiating counterpart knows it too.

So say something.  Say it tactfully and politely, but say something.  It’s no benefit to either of you if you keep trying to make something work that just isn’t in the cards.

By the same token, when you’re lucky enough to work with someone you trust and appreciate, let them know.  Good relationships don’t just happen; you have to nurture and appreciate those suckers.  So bring the metaphorical chocolate & the flowers: say “thank you” and “I really enjoy working with you.”  It goes a long way.

A Happy Belated Valentine’s Day to all!

Categories: Negotiation Strategy

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