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Negotiate Like Your Pants are on Fire

"Negotiating is an art," they say. It certainly requires finesse. But I'm gonna argue that it's a skill that anyone can learn. Or a muscle that gets stronger when you exercise it. Negotiating is easier if you were born fearless and you think it's fun to push right to the very edge and see what happens. But it's not something that people just know how to do. It takes practice.

You are negotiating on your own behalf all the time, even if you don't know it. You are compromising, making concessions and asking for what you need. And if you're a woman, you're likely giving away too much of yourself in an effort to spare others from discomfort. I get it. I give big Mom Vibes. I want everyone to be okay and if I think I can make that happen, every fiber in my body screams at me to do it – at any cost.

Here's the thing, caring about people is a beautiful thing. Really. But caring for ourselves matters too. And the data around the gender pay gap and women vs. men in positions of power shows us that we are propping up others and nobody is propping us up. We are the only people who are going to solve this inequity for ourselves so it's time to recognize our value and negotiate for ourselves. Boldly. Fiercely. Relentlessly.

Here are some nuggets to remember:

  • Negotiating is part of business, it's not personal

  • Good negotiators expect for you to counter their offers so they start low

  • No need to be an asshole when you negotiate, especially if it makes you uncomfortable (some of us enjoy it occasionally)

  • Negotiating requires confidence, others want to work with confident people

  • If you are not negotiating, you're letting others keep what you have earned

  • Business negotiations are about more than money, what other levers can you pull?

During a recent keynote I shared the stage with my daughter, Kylie Sarpa, who is a master negotiator. She sharpened her skills as a high level recruiter for big high tech companies. During our talk, she shared that typically 9 out 10 men would counter their initial job offer with a higher compensation package while only 3 out 10 women countered. Ouch. That's just so fucking sad.

We understand that using self-promoting language is uncomfortable for many (takes practice, this is something we all can and should overcome). Or that "making demands" feels scary. We don't have to pound our fists on tables or slam doors to get what we need. We can say very professional and polite things like, "I'm excited about this opportunity and I'll need XX to move forward with this deal."

Another concept that Kylie speaks about is If/Then agreements. When another party can't budge on a dollar amount, you can negotiate for future money. Here's what that looks like: I'll sell you my products at the price you offered under the condition that if you sell out of our product, then the next order is priced at $XX. You are offering them a win/win deal and it's much easier to negotiate on future earnings in many cases.

There's also more than money at play in any agreement. Are there services that can be offered in place of cash? Or favorable conditions in exchange for more money?

My experience in negotiation (and sales) is that finding the other party's pain points is the fastest way to figure out how to craft a deal that works for you and relieves their pain. It will also tell you what you're bringing to the table and what it's worth. Why do they need what you have? What happens to them if they don't make an agreement with you? What's the competitive landscape for them?

Be creative, do your homework and remind yourself repeatedly that you have value. Say it out loud, over and over so that when it's time for your next bold move, it comes naturally.


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