Negotiating Yourself Out of the Corner You Talked Yourself Into. Part III of III (Living “La Vita Negotiator”)

I hope in reading this final section on negotiations I can assist you in achieving a better understanding of the steps and processes needed to become a truly effective negotiator. More importantly, through the application of these steps, I hope to assist you in becoming more successful in your business dealings, and as a result, assist you in making more money. (Hah – you’ve been negotiated!). A bad negotiator would have would have begun the article by stating, “If you do not read this you are nuts!” Now, that might well be true, but that will no longer matter now that I have challenged you to prove me wrong. A good negotiator always leads people to their way of thinking, not dragging them there. So, how do you become a better negotiator? Step #1: Establish trust and respect on the first contact. It is too late by the second contact. If the first impression you make is a bad one, then you have to work on that before you bother with any of the other steps. If you come on “strong” (a la used car salesman), tone it down. I recommend you practice simple politeness and courtesy in your everyday life to “train” yourself to have empathy. Open doors for other people, nod your head and smile at people as they walk by your office or cube. When driving, let other cars in traffic, slow down and wave people into the spot in front of you. If you are going to your car in a crowded parking lot, wave a car over to you before you get in your own car. Why? Because empathy is the best tool you have as a negotiator. The ability to sense need in others and developing a natural and flowing response to that need. That is not a switch you flick on and off. It is a very real part of your everyday life. Can you negotiate without empathy – sure. Will you ever be a great negotiator without empathy – no. People sense empathy, they sense genuine concern. We all say we can spot a “jerk” a mile away. So can candidates. If you find this tough to swallow, think of the rudest person you know and the politest person you know. Who would you rather have as a negotiator for something you truly wanted? If you still do not equate successful negotiations with politeness consider this, would you rather cut off the next car you see, or increase your income by 25%. Believe me, if your answer was the former, you are a bad negotiator. Because there is no money to be made in professional sales through rudeness. Besides, in a world of better negotiators, driving would be less stressful for all of us and I could finally find a parking space Step #2: To negotiate effectively, never be “them,” always be apart. Whether you are an agency recruiter, a company human resources representative or a consultant, always refer to the hiring authority as “them.” Maintain your status as the third party in the process. Even if you have final authority in the offer process, do not boast or brag about it. This allows you to create delays and pauses in the process to rethink or seek guidance. It also permits you to give “another point of view” without being seen as a person with a “stake” in the outcome. Agency recruiters can diffuse their vested interest by saying, “You may think all I care about is my fee, but I also care about my reputation with this client. I do not profit from a bad hire.” A company representative can also separate themselves by saying, “I do not get paid by the hire. But, I am judged by my retention record. I have no interest in making a bad hire.” By the way, refer to Step #1, if you say this, you better mean this, and you better be convincing. This only works if it is the truth, and believed. (How’s that polite driving coming along?) Step #3: Plan, plan, plan and then plan some more. You should have been taking notes on every positive and negative comment the candidate has made about their current job and every positive and negative comment they have made about the opportunity you represent. In the negotiations, they will only mention the negatives in your opportunity and the positives in their current job. You, therefore, must be prepared to remind them of the negatives in their current job and the positives in the opportunity you represent. (Note: The candidate currently has a “job,” you represent an “opportunity.” Good negotiators are good subliminal “word-smiths.” (Every word is “chosen” for a reason.) In the first installment I mention the car salesman trying to close a deal. Is the new car buyer driving an old car, or merely buying up in response to a recent promotion. To a negotiator this means when they are closing the deal with an old car owner they should mention, “I would hate to have the engine finally go in the middle of nowhere!” If the buyer is “upgrading” then a good negotiator would say, “I know what you mean, you have earned a car like this.” In both instances the negotiator reminded the buyer of their own motivations. The negotiator did so by placing themselves in the moment (“I would hate?”, “I know what you mean?”). If the buyer’s previous comment had been concern over cost, you could have “argued dollars” and lost, or “reminded” the buyer of other issues to balance the cost. In salary negotiations you cannot always count on finding extra budget money, so you better have the “other” reasons ready. For example, “I realize you had hoped for a bigger increase, but you also wanted a better bonus program, and that’s in this package. Aren’t you better off in the long term?” You agree that something is lacking “in part,” but you are also reminding the candidate of “the greater whole.” You are posing the question, “aren’t you better off?” in a question that you already know the answer to: “Yes!” But to use the “buyer’s” own words, you had to be quiet and listen. Then, plan all the potential counter-points based on that knowledge. The candidate currently has to drive 45 minutes to their job and hates it. The new opportunity is only 30 minutes away. In real estate it is “location, location, location.” In negotiations, it is “plan, plan, plan.” Step #4: Good negotiators always leave a door open. We’re natural fire marshals. Listen to the way you speak to people. I mean listen, not merely poised waiting for a gap to jump into like a family dinner. Good negotiators teach and explain as they speak. Do you? A good negotiator avoids sentences that do not allow you to change or alter direction. “I feel that the offer they are preparing to make is a fair and honest one.” The negotiator “feels” it is a good offer, they are not insisting that it is. Therefore they have not declared a position from which they must stand or die. The negotiator has remained a third party by use of the word “they” and has left the door open for possible discussion by referring to the offer as “are preparing” and not “done.” The negotiator has inferred that the offer is “fair and honest,” they did not say “generous.” The candidate can disagree with the latter, but, even if not happy with the offer, they would not be inclined to say it was not “fair and honest.” If it is “fair and honest,” on what grounds do they base their need for a bigger number? They will have one, but if you were listening, and if you planned, you are ready for their next point, with your counter point. If you notice, the sentence in the above example was polite, it educated and it pointed in a direction. It was not confrontational, and it did not insist. It is my opinion that true negotiators make an effort in, every communication, to practice the art and process of leading people to their way of thinking and not “pushing them” there. (See, I “negotiated” you again. Hah!) Step #5: Negotiators never take it personally. If things are not going well, you are concerned but never upset. “I am sorry you feel that the offer is lacking, I know they will be disappointed to hear that.” This will evoke a response, you can always keep negotiations going as long as the other person “responds” to your comments. Your open comments. If you “hit them” with anger, they will close up, “This is not the kind of answer I was expecting.” Well, they do not care what you were expecting, they were expecting something as well. Good negotiators have the heart of a champion “ping pong” player. They keep the ball bouncing, no matter what: Candidate: “I know, I am sorry too, but I cannot accept an offer less than 50K.”

Negotiator: “May I ask why 50K is a goal, maybe I will understand your position better?” (Supportive, seeking guidance and understanding.)

Candidate: “My roommate in college is making 50K, and I am at least as bright as he is!”

Negotiator:“If my roommate told me that, I would ask for the pay stub. He used to lie like a rug.” (Humor can be a diffusing tool. You create doubt without confrontation)

Candidate: “Yah, but I know they need this position filled, and I am only looking for X more.”

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Negotiator: “I see your point, but I would also hate to see you lose this over that slight an amount. (Use the candidate’s own logic to support your counter-point)

Negotiator: “Plus, I cannot say that you are the only potential candidate. Like you say, this is a tough market. The client feels they have found their candidate in you, but they also have to be prepared in the event you decline.” (Inject doubt, but not by diminishing the candidate, or the client’s preference for them. This is presented and phrased as a “concern” on your part, based on your knowledge of “the client.”)

The important thing is to always keep the dialogue going. But going in the direction you want through helpful and gentle nudges. Never shove. Step #6: Negotiators keep trying to “close the deal.” Every time you make a counter-point, do not wait for the candidate to conclude the negotiations. That’s your job, you?re the negotiator: “So, if the over-all package exceeds your original goal, that makes this a good deal for you. I suggest we call the client now and make their day, too.” You are “recommending” and indicating a good deal for both parties at the end of the sentence by inferring “If the candidate objects, not a problem, the negotiations continue. The only time you fail in sales when you conclude the process without a closed deal. We do not keep count of how many previous times you failed to close the candidate, just the final time you failed. In sales, you can always go for the close as many times as it takes. To quote a baseball great, “It ain’t over, till it’s over.” There is no “secret” to successful negotiations. But there are roadblocks. If you are not a good person in the way you deal with co-workers and candidates on a daily basis, you will fail as a negotiator. If you are prone to not listen to other people, you will fail to negotiate effectively because you lack the tools you need to negotiate. If you use closed sentences that do not allow you to re-channel and re-direct the flow of the conversation, you will never get to the point where you can try to close the candidate, the goal of negotiations. In essence, the steps in negotiations vary from situation to situation, from person to person. But the one principle that is a constant is that you will never succeed in dealing with people who do not like or trust you. So be nice, be honest, and get rich. So live “La Vita Negotiator” Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


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