In the contracting meeting, the department head reviewed my negotiation techniques and slid the contract back across the table at me, shaking her head. "Too much," she said. "I'll give you 20% less."
This was more than a decade ago, when I was just starting out in private practice, and one of my first big opportunities was to help a large department work through a long-standing state of unrest that was getting in the way of operations. Here I was, sitting with the head of the department, attempting to finalize theproposal I'd so carefully constructed.
Pleasantly, I explained that I hadn't deliberately inflated my proposed fees to come in with a highball offer or play negotiation techniques games. The proposed fee was a real number based on careful consideration. I further explained that while my hourly rate was not negotiable, perhaps she and I should revisit the scope of the work to be done to see if that could be scaled back to bring the cost down.
She shook her head again, this time rolling her eyes ever so slightly, as though she couldn't quite believe she could be talking to such an imbecile. "Everything's negotiable," said she, "even negotiation techniques fees."
Now, I had just finished a book cautioning new consultants not to negotiate their rates (assuming their rates were based on something real, like overhead, income needs, going rates in the field, etc. and not just pulled out of the air) because it became a slippery slope. At a loss for what else to do and fast realizing that my plum of a new contract was slipping from my grasp, I asked, "Why do you believe that everything's negotiable?"
She sat back and said, "I don't. But the head of negotiation techniques does. He'll ask me if I bargained you down and got a good deal."
I stared in disbelief for a moment. Then I picked up my pen, crossed out the proposed fee, and wrote in a new fee about 25% higher than my original negotiation techniques. "Will this work?" I asked, sliding the paper back to her.
She pondered my negotiation techniques for a moment, then said, "Well, I'll have to offer you 20% less than that. I think I've already been clear about that"
"That sounds reasonable," I said. And we had a deal.
This really did happen. I learned a few important negotiation techniques about negotiating that day, ones that are often key when I'm helping mediation parties negotiate or helping coach someone for an upcoming negotiation of their own.
I learned that pushing back and being firm in a position is often not a fruitful strategy. After all, had I refused to consider a new way to look at my fees, I wouldn't have gotten the contract and I wouldn't have this delightful story to tell.
I learned that asking even the simplest question in a real attempt to understand, then really listening to the answer, can unlock a negotiation.
I learned that knowing someone's interests can make entirely new solutions visible.
Learning that the department head had negotiation techniques in being able to tell the CFO she had bargained me down helped open up my thinking. And it helped me see her in a different light. No longer was she just unreasonable or stubborn.
And I learned that even the zaniest solutions sometimes work or lead to other ideas that do. Whoever would have dreamed that upping myprice, right in front of her, could have lead to a deal after she'd already told me it was too high?