Losing it

As a society we’re sort of obsessed with losing things.

Losing your mind; your virginity; control; face; weight; your religion; your grip; your hair; touch; ground.

Generally speaking, we associate “losing” with things that are bad (OK, except maybe the virginity thing).

So it shouldn’t come as a shock that psychologically humans hate losing more than we like winning.  A lot more.

Radio Lab did a nice piece explaining this concept in their episode Choice (and the super cool Brendan Atkins did a nice job showing me how to use Audacity to splice it up for you).  Take a listen:

Did you catch that?  Before people are willing to take a chance to win free money, they want to make sure what they can win is twice what the other guy can win.  They want to make sure their risk of losing is less than the other guy’s.  (And for those of you that took stats in college, no, it doesn’t matter if it is statistically true or not; it’s the appearance of reduced risk that’s important to folks.)

When you start digging into it, it’s kind of amazing to discover how much we hate losing.  It’s one thing to forgo a possible 2:1 win because you hate losing, but to forgo a larger raise because you want someone to lose?

One of my favorites is the $20 auction.

If a $20 bill were for auction, how much would you pay?  No, really; how much?

What if I told you that the last guy to bid before you win has to pay whatever he bid?  So if we’re bidding against one another and you bid $10 and I bid $9, I’d still have to pay out $9 if you’re the winning bid.

Would you go over $20?  Are you sure?

“OK, Katie, big deal, people don’t like losing.  Woo!  Thanks for the insight.”

So don’t make people feel like they’re losing when you negotiate.

Resist the urge to say, “Duh,” and hear me out.

The feeling of losing can derail a productive negotiation, eradicate goodwill and sully a previously positive negotiation relationship.  And it can happen faster than you’d think.

Because people don’t announce that they feel like they’re losing out; they rarely tell you that they think you’re taking advantage of them.  They’ll more likely bide their time, try to figure out what’s going on, attempt to get more out of you, and then, when they can’t, announce suddenly and explosively that they’re taking their toys and going home.

So it’s important to pay attention to how things are getting divvied up and make sure you’re doing a good job of making your counterpart feel like they’re getting a good deal.

PLEASE NOTE: I did not say that it is your job to give your counterpart a better deal.  No; that’s their job.  It is your job to make them feel like they are getting a good deal.  Because, people, we’re talking about feelings here, plain and simple.

How to make your counterpart fee like they’re getting a good deal:

  • Have things you can give up. Make a list of them.  Then give them up as is necessary to get things you want.  Figure out which ones are most important to the other side by talking to the other side about their interests.  Give those important things up when you can get important things for them.
  • Tell them what you’re conceding. Don’t forget to tell them what you’re giving up.  Even when you think they know.  Don’t forget that they’re human and want to feel like you’re losing a bit here, too.  Don’t get all B Movie about it, but let them know you’re giving things up.  It will make them feel good.
  • Repeat their interests to them. When talking about whatever you’re negotiating over, use their words.  “You mentioned that this time line is important to you because of X and Y; I can help with X by doing A &B, but to address Y, I’ll have to rearrange other projects I’m working on.  That’ll require either a higher rate or extending the time line.”
  • Be open to creative solutions. It’s easy to get bogged down into arguing about time and money, because it’s usually what we’re negotiating over.  But those are positions, not interests.  Keeping an eye on your interests.  Making sure you’re fulfilling them will keep you open to more creative solutions.  And creative solutions generally make people feel good; like they’re accomplishing something special.  And “special” is better than “loser.”

What to do if you feel like you’re getting a loser deal:

  • Say so. It’s amazing to me how much you can gain just by asking questions or speaking honestly about something.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, but the results tend to be better, present themselves faster and are more relevant.  And if you say, “Hey, this seems lopsided to me; what’s going on?” and they say, “Well, it is,” you can evaluate how important this job is to your overarching goals and how much (or little) energy you should keep investing in it.
  • Review your interests. Have you been negotiating over interests or positions?  If you’ve been arguing over positions, it’s no wonder you feel like you’re getting a raw deal (there is only so much to go around); but if you’ve been following your interests, maybe it’s time to review them, see how they’re being represented in the solutions on the table and then figure out what would better fulfill those interests.  Use that brainstorming to reset the negotiation and propose a counteroffer that is better designed to help you meet your goals.
  • Evaluate your goals. Is this a “means to an end” job, an entry to a client job, the beginning of something or the end?  Know what this deal represents in the larger picture and then invest your energy appropriately.  If this is supposed to be a beginning and you already feel like you’re getting screwed, maybe this isn’t the means to the end you’re shooting for.  If this is the end of a relationship and you feel like you’re getting screwed, figure out how this end is going to fit into your larger career goals (people talk about break ups more often than they talk about “how we met”) and make it productive.  Maybe your goal in the end is to save face or a relationship and the money isn’t as important.

If all else fails, repeat the following phrase:

“I am not a loser; I am a winner with less baggage.”

Categories: Self Awareness Tools

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