Monday, August 10, 2009

The Art of Negotiation

The economy continues to struggle, and the cost of items of need continues to feel overwhelming and more than you can afford (forget the items of desire, which feel about as attainable as the Powerball winning ticket numbers these days.) The good news is that the economy continues to be friendly to the spirit of negotiating, finding a way to access products and services of need (well, and sometimes those of desire), even if you are a neophyte at the art of negotiation. Remember a simple acronym, and you will find yourself as compelling as an attorney for AIG in the art of negotiation, saving yourself much more than A BUCK.

1. Always Ask: Deals are not always published to the masses, and often times you can save the most money just speaking with someone one on one. Recently, on a shopping trip, I left a store with 8 deluxe samples of cosmetics, having made zero purchases, just by chatting with the sales associate, engaging in a knowledge-seeking conversation, and developing a vendor-client relationship that will continue to pay off for both the associate and I. Though this example is small, the same principle applies to your auto insurance provider, your credit card or bank of choice, and so forth.

2. Be Decent. For many years, I worked in a customer-service capacity. When I served as a Pharmacy Technician, and people were less than civil to me because of the cost of their drugs (not that they did not have a right to be infuriated regarding the cost of prescription meds, but that is a theme for a different entry), I closed down and was less inclined to go above and beyond to help them. As egalitarian as we all like to think we are, occasionally our human sides take over. If you are on the consumer front, recognize that there is an actual person on the other side of the negotiating table, and both parties are better served by decency in dealings.

3. Understand the Party You are Negotiating With. As an extension of #2, empathy is an imperative component in the art of negotiation. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are bargaining with. What do they really want from you? What is the best case scenario, from their perspective? What is the worst? Most importantly, what agreement could be reached that they would view as symbiotic, where perhaps you would feel you had the upper hand or walked away with more than you expected.

4. Culpa in Contrahendo. Latin for "obligations in negotiations," this expression implies a need for care in negotiations. You do not want to be a swindler. You do not want to be a person who isn't fair, or the person who play Bernie Madoff to the person on the other side of the negotiating table. Put aside the morality of this position, my House-ian friends. Logic and rational thinking should guide you to the same path. The world is small, your reputation matters...if you have learned nothing from this season's Gossip Girl*, you should have learned that.

5. Know thy Ally (if you are bargaining with enemies, you haven't been paying attention or you nominated yourself the new Secretary of State). If you lack skill in the art of empathy, as, not to mention names, some of us do (ahem, like a couple of superficial exes of my...friends), you may find this skill will develop further if you spend more time in conversation with the party you are negotiating with. A few weekends ago, a telemarketer called me, and before we both knew it, we were discussing our dating histories and she was offering me a smartphone cell package 50% lower than she was allowed (I know this to be true because I checked online...four times.) Spend time getting to know the people you are negotiating with, pay attention to their names, ask how their day has been going and MEAN IT! You think they like spending Saturday afternoon haggling with strangers?

*Note: The author of this blog entry does NOT profess to watch Gossip Girl, but has watched several episodes...enough to deduce the analogy holds true. However, if loyal fans rebel, the author will gladly substitute Sex and the City, Dallas, or Sesame Street (hello?! what if people referred to your surname as "the Grouch.")

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