I’m back!

London was fantabulous and we had a blast.  There were museums and historic walks and pubs and Tubes and plays and tea and not a whole lot of complicated negotiating.  I haggled over a tchotchke in a market once and that was about it (saved about $12, thankyouverymuch).

As I reenter the world of posting regularly, I thought I’d start out with a bit of practical information about negotiating contracts.  Partially because my brain is still mush from getting back into the swing of things at work last week and partially because I forget that not everyone knows these things.  I use them every day and you should too.

Contracts are not born in PDF. People who send you an initial version of a contract in PDF are jerks.  Ok, perhaps that is over stating it, but 90% of the time, sending someone a contract in PDF is a pure power play.  There is absolutely no other reason for it.  Why?  Because you can’t alter a PDF; it’s a locked document and sending it to someone during contract negotiations is saying, “I do not care about what you want; just sign it.”  And by the way, “Our legal department won’t allow it,” “It’s the only form I’m authorized to provide,” and “We don’t have a contract in Word” are all lame excuses designed to intimidate and bully.  So, next time you’re sent a contract in PDF, even if you’d sign it as is, ask for it in Word or Pages format before you do anything else.  Let them know you’re paying attention and you expect to be treated as an equal.

Offering to sign first has value. Most corporations have frightfully complex structures for getting contracts signed.  Depending on the jurisdiction and how the contract is drafted, a contract might not be enforceable until both parties sign.  Offering to sign a contract first often saves a corporation lots of time because then all they have to do is move the paper through their process; they don’t have to move it through their process and wait for you to return it to them.  I’ve occasionally negotiated on other elements because the other side agreed to sign first.

“Let’s avoid all this legal language” means “I’m going to screw you.” If a date lets the door to the restaurant slam in your face, or a new boss doesn’t have a desk for you on your first day, you’d pretty quickly get the message that they didn’t respect you.  But when someone encourages us to enter a business relationship without a legal commitment of what will happen, for some reason we tend to think that this shows that they really like and trust us.  That is dumb.  Start thinking of working “on a handshake” as having the door slammed in your face or the chair pulled out from under you.  And don’t do it.

Do the math. Which would you rather do: a job that pays you $6000 or a job that pays you $10/hr?  The $6,000 job sounds pretty darn cool, yes?  What if I told you they’re the same job?  Contracts often list the payment terms in bulk amounts.  Before rushing to sign because you need the cash, do the math.  Given the work that you’re being asked to provide and the time in which you’re asked to provide it, does the hourly rate make sense?  Or is this going to take up so much of your time and energy you’d be better off turning it down?  Because, you are allowed to turn down work that doesn’t pay you well.  Better work is out there and you will get it.  But not if you take every crappy job that’s thrown at you.

Version control. Track Changes is great, but if it gets turned off, irregularly used, or those PDFs pop up, it’s not very helpful.  So what to do if you’re looking at two copies of the same 20 page contract and you want to make sure they’re the same?  Lay the contracts one on top of the other and so that you can see the right hand margin of both.  Run your fingers down the right hand side of both documents.  If they’re the same, each line should end with the same letter, the same word, and the same justification.  If something’s been changed, the end of the lines will be different.  You’ll easily be able to go back into the substance of that line to see what’s changed.  Use the four hours you’ve just saved to sleep, marinate a flank steak, kiss a baby and flesh out your negotiating strategy.

Categories: Making Sense of Contracts


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4 responses to “I’m back!”

  1. Also; banana’s. The brain food will help keep your blood full of good -brain- things during the ‘fight or flight’ stage of panic. Eat one 10ish minutes before negotiation.

    I also advice eating banana’s for ANY negotiations you might do in the morning.

    Also, Katie, I realised something the other day when bartering for a reduced mobile phone package, which might interest you?; those places have a tier style system to the discounts they give. Without any negotiating they have a free-bie discount which they give out willy-nilly to anybody as a personal incentive. It works pretty well as a deterrent to further haggling from the customer as they feel they’ve gotten a good deal already, without having to work for it.

    Past that, they have a ‘max’ discount they can reach to, but will fight for it (As they lose commission), and after that then there’s the last tier of a manager discount; the bottom line where they don’t make profit but want to get rid of you. I just found it interesting that they had an immediate discount they fling at you, so as to stop any further kind of bartering. This is something you might be able to use in negotiating; start with big numbers, and as soon as negotiating starts give an immiadte discount as a ‘hey buddy, let not beat around the bush, here’s where we can go down to, just for you.’

  2. Opp the bannana advice was meant for; ‘It’s not just you; everyone is stupid.’ will repost!

  3. Courtney says:

    So when Bank of America boasts their easy to read home mortgage plan, it really means they’re going to screw you with it? Or does this post only apply to work contracts?

    • Katie says:

      Good question! “Legal stuff” and “easy to read” are not mutually exclusive concepts, though many lawyers treat them that way. You should be able to understand any agreement you make; if you don’t understand it, ask questions until you do or don’t agree to it.

      What I was getting at in this post was more the concept of working on a handshake or without a written agreement. Working in that manner is not a way of saying “I trust you.” It’s more a way of saying, “I don’t want to be held to anything when I screw up.”

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