Dead Sharks (and the Art of the Deal)

Dead Sharks (and the Art of the Deal)

“A relationship is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we have on our hands here, is a dead shark.” So says Woody Allen to Diane Keaton in the classic Annie Hall when their love finally hits the rocks. I think the same can be said of all human interaction. Whether you’re negotiating a salary, selling a home, or seeking funding for your new company – the same principle of forward motion applies. Stall too long and you just might kill the deal. Agree too readily, and you may leave money on the table. How can you get to “yes” and still get what you want? This is the delicate, and sometimes dark art of negotiation.

So the meeting is set and there’s a lot at stake. You’re going to get one chance to make your case and negotiate for what you want. What are some general principles to keep in mind so you don’t end up with a dead shark?

1. Small talk is actually big talk

In most meetings, there is usually an introductory exchange of pleasantries before “getting down to business.” This kind of personal exchange is actually a critical first step in any negotiation, so don’t overlook it or underestimate its importance. If you want the other person to play ball with you, it is essential that they LIKE you. This is why small talk is really big talk. You are building rapport. How much is enough? It depends. But if someone is telling you a funny story and they’re enjoying it, relax and go with it. The natural rhythm will dictate when it’s time to move on to the next stage.

2. Be prepared

If you’re negotiating a salary or pay increase, you must know what you (and the job) are worth. I can’t emphasize this enough. DO YOUR RESEARCH. You can start by looking at the market rate for particular jobs on sites like glassdoor, and Reach out to others in your industry in order to gather specific comp data. It helps to know three numbers going in. First, the market rate for that position. Two, the number that you want. And three, the minimum that you are willing to accept. Try to anticipate any awkward questions that you may be asked. Odds on, those are the ones you will be asked. If you don’t currently have another offer on the table, don’t lie and make one up. Tell the truth, it’s always easier to remember. And don’t talk money too soon as it can sometimes be a real turn off.

 3. Understand who you’re negotiating with

The goal should never be to dominate or browbeat someone into submission. The goal should always be to understand what the other guy’s issues are, and the constraints that he or she may be operating under. Put yourself on the other side of the table for a moment. Can you see it from their perspective? Learn as much as you possibly can (both before and during the meeting) about what their needs are, and how you might be able to fulfill them. Understanding where they can give and where they cannot ultimately puts you in a much stronger bargaining position.

4. Be realistic and flexible

Despite what you may feel, nobody is really out to screw you. What they are trying to do is protect their own interests, and so are you. So a little flexibility goes a long way in reaching a deal that is mutually acceptable. So maybe the numbers are a little off, but can you look at the “overall” package? Bonus, options, location – these are all useful currency. Again, this is about doing your homework and knowing what you want, and what your actual value is. If you feel you deserve more, then you need to communicate clearly why you think you’re worth the additional investment. But try to avoid ultimatums or strong arm tactics. Nobody likes to feel bullied or manipulated.

5. No doesn’t always mean no

Nobody gets what they want all the time. Even if the answer you get is a resounding no, it doesn’t have to mean a dead shark. Sometimes no just means “not right now.” Or it can mean, “I am so overwhelmed and distracted by my sick kid, aging parents and budget overruns, that I simply have no bandwidth to even entertain this right now.” Either way, you’ve sown the seeds of a future conversation, and demonstrated your assertiveness. It shows confidence that you value your contribution, and as such, you are someone to be taken seriously.

6. End on a positive note

You always want to end any meeting on an “up” note, especially if it’s been heated or difficult. Whether or not you’ve been successful in your objective, we can all respect someone who stands up for what they believe in. Look for the common ground, and there is always common ground. Perhaps a callback to a neutral topic you discussed earlier (see number 1 above), or an open acknowledgment that it was a bruising encounter: “Man, that was tough!” Remember, the negotiation itself is a way to showcase your talents as a negotiator. And a polished professional can always disagree without being disagreeable.

Good luck in your next high-stakes meeting, and just remember to keep that shark moving forward!

(Next month, in part 3 of this series, I’ll talk about tips for staying employed once you’ve gotten the job.)