The art of negotiating: an analogy, with booze.

Nov 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

A couple of weeks ago, the hilarious and awesome SciTriGrrl (aka NatC) tweeted:

Naturally, I couldn't let such a juicy tweet just fly off into the twittersphere, so I asked NatC if she'd do me the great honor of sharing her newly acquired and highly valuable knowledge with my readers. I wrote a post about negotiating my startup a while back, but trust me, her post is way better. And so, without further ado, I give you.....NatC!

Hello World! Today I’m here to talk about an effective negotiating strategy! Because negotiating can get us things that we need – like money, more space, and administrative support. And because negotiating is scary.

For the record, I am not an expert – really not. In this post I’m paraphrasing a seminar called “The Art of Negotiating” by Professor Victoria Medvec.  It was an amazing seminar, and I’m paraphrasing her strategy. All credit goes to her*.

 [Um…Before I start…um…Dr Becca? Does writing this guest blog spot at Fumbling Towards Tenure earn me a cocktail named in my honor? … Can you make me one while at SFN? … No?... um… maybe next time?]

 In terms of negotiating, I did a couple of things wrong above when trying to negotiate some recompense for writing this guest post.

  • I agreed to write this post without using the request as the chance to negotiate what I needed/wanted.
  • I’m asking for a single item.
  • The whole exchange was conducted in an “asynchronous mode of communication” (messaging/email/telegram).

I’m also doing a couple of things right:

  • I’m asking. If you don’t ask, it won’t happen.
  • I’ve asked for more than I want – I’d love a custom cocktail, but I don’t really care if it’s named for me, or if Dr Becca makes it at SFN. This means I have room to concede.


How should I have approached this negotiation?

 The scenario:

Dr Becca sends me a message asking if I’d like to write a blog post about negotiations. I know I want (need?) a cocktail.

 Pre-game: The first thing I should have said is “Wow! Dr Becca! Thanks so much for thinking me worthya. This is an exciting opportunity. Why don’t we meet/talk on the phoneb tomorrowc to discuss how this could workd.

Here, already I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve (a) showed interest and enthusiasm, but have not agreed outright, (b) arranged to have a conversation in real time, (c) given myself time to prepare, and (d) implied that there’s a discussion to be had, that this could work for both of us.

I. Preparation:

1. Decide what I need (goal) and what the ideal situation would be (aggressive goal). Also be sure to think about what the long-term goal is – what is it that the initial goal is trying to achieve?

2. Do what I can to have/improve/know the alternatives (or Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), this can be the status quo)

3. Know the lowest I’m willing to settle for (insider tip: try to make this no worse than status quo)

4. Carefully analyze what the other party’s alternatives are (their BATNA). Also think about what THEY are trying to achieve. The more information you have on the other party’s goals, the better.

 My short term goal here is obviously a custom cocktail.  Ideally it would be named after me, and Dr Becca would be making the prototype at SFN. My long term goal here is a little less trivial – I want to make sure we set aside time to chat (in the name of networking, of course).

My alternatives are: no cocktail, not custom, custom but not named for me, a drink out some time in the future, or status quo (aka nothing). I’m actually perfectly happy to write the post with no cocktail (shhh! Don’t let her know that!), but my reservation point would be setting a time/place to grab a drink and catch up – so better than status quo, and it helps accomplish my long-term goal.

Dr Becca’s options? No post on negotiations, a negotiations expert, or me. I know she wants the scoop on how to negotiate effectively, but I’m no expert. On the other hand, I went to this kick-ass seminar, took extensive notes, and Dr Becca clearly doesn’t know an expert in negotiations or she wouldn’t be asking me.

 II. Make a Plan

5. Develop a package with which to negotiate. This should include multiple issues (do not just talk about one thing).

6. Develop a scoring system so you can evaluate various possibilites

7. Develop multiple equivalent simultaneous offers (MESOs)– and by equivalent, this means equivalent for you. They won’t be equivalent to the person you’re negotiating with, and this is important.

 For me, MESOs with multiple issues looks like this

  Option 1 Option 2 Option 3
Cocktail: Custom cocktail Custom cocktail Suggest a cocktail you think I’ll like
How: You make it At a bar, bartender makes it You make it
Ingredients: Your Choice Your Choice Bourbon and lemon
When: Your Choice At SFN At SFN
Score: Yum Yum Yum

 Remember, to me all of these have the same value (Yum). Dr Becca will likely see them differently: take Scenario 3. It’s entirely possible that she might not WANT to be making cocktails at SFN, might not want to drag bourbon, lemon, a glass, and a shaker with her - all totally reasonable.

 III. Negotiate

To make the conversation go as smoothly as possible:

8. Think about how the conversation is going to go – best and worst case scenarios, beginning and the end of the conversation.

9. Make the first offer and build a rationale – and focus that rationale on the other party’s goals

10. Leave yourself room to concede

 In planning the conversation, don’t rote learn a script – that never ends well – but do think about how you will broach the topic, the other party’s various possible responses, and how you would come back from those.

When planning the conversation, plan to make the first offer. This way you are in the position of offering, and not in the position of saying “no”. Let them say no! You also want to be able to set the high number – hopefully you know enough to set a high enough number so that you are not low-balling yourself, and it’s always easier to negotiate down than up. Finally, going first puts you in control of the situation – even when the other party has more power than you (think: department chair).

You need to be able to state a rationale in terms of how [providing x for you] will help them achieve their long term goals, then it gives them a reason to listen and support your request. Here, Becca’s goals are to learn about effective negotiations, and to have a successful blog. So a rationale might look something like: “I know that you want a successful blog that both provides information to the blogging community and to learn how to effectively negotiate – and making a custom cocktail for me will help achieve both these things because everyone loves the cocktail posts.  As for effective negotiations, you know that role-playing difficult conversations can really alleviate the awkwardness, and I would me more than happy to practice these techniques over drinks.”**

You’ve set a high (but not unreasonable) number because you’re worth it, but also to give you room to concede. Conceding is good. It makes the other party think they’re winning, which means they’re happy, which means they know they’re getting you for a steal.  Conceding can be dropping your initial request to a lower number, or agreeing to drop one of the multiple offers presented - when I have presented my 3 scenarios, Dr Becca can say “not #3”, and I can happily agree to that. In addition, when you use MESOs, as the other party discusses the various options you’ve presented you gain more information into what the other party wants/likes, which will help you in subsequent rounds of negotiations.

And that’s it!

 For me, the hardest part by far is walking into the room and starting the conversation. I worry about seeming too demanding, about underselling myself, about spontaneously bursting into tears if they just say “No”.  I can see, however, how planning well, using multiple issues across multiple simultaneous offers, and making the first offer can make a negotiation seem like a conversation about how to make things happen. A nerve wracking conversation, for sure, but ultimately doable.


 [In the imaginary conversation I’m having with Dr Becca], we have agreed on Scenario 2***: A custom cocktail recipe to be made by a bartender at a TBD time, while we are both at SFN. In return, while we are at the bar, we will be discussing negotiations, and practicing some of the worst case scenario conversation, with each other as the “other party”.


*All criticism should come back to me.

**Do you buy it?

***This should not be taken as evidence for success.

18 responses so far

  • This was an absolutely phenomenal post. Thank you for making my Monday morning 🙂

  • Carolina (@braziliancakes) says:

    I agree, this post was awesome! I can't wait to start sending out my resume and (hopefully) practicing these techniques! 🙂

  • PhysioProf says:

    Very good advice! #4 is the one that most academics fail at, as they don't even realize that the whole point of a negotiation is to make the other party *want* to give you what you are asking for. This is why they tend to frame requests for shitte in terms like "I need shitte" or "Itte's only fair to give me shitte", which misses the whole point: "it will be to *your* benefit to give me shitte, and here's why".

  • Really really awesome advice!

  • Dr. Zeek says:

    Oh my god. Printed and hung next to the list of TT- positions I applied for this fall. Thank you, thank you, thank you both!

  • gerty-z says:

    excellent post! it is too easy sometimes to not consider where the other negotiating party is coming from...i'm going to try to do a better job of using this strategy in all my daily negotiations.

  • Dr. O says:

    Great post NatC! Already done with my first set of TT negotiations, but I get the feeling there will be plenty more down the road, for which this post will be immensely helpful!!!

  • Sarah says:

    This was a great post (particularly since I am currenty interviewing) but I ran into an unexpected problem at my first interview. Everybody (search committee, department chair, other faculty) wanted to know how much I would want/need for startup, but it wasn't a negotiation. They weren't going to make me an offer at that point so I had no hope of a conversation. My research is on the pricy side, but so is my general area that they are targeting so I don't think my proposals raised any alarms. I generally tried to sound flexible while naming a price that would make me very happy. I happen to know how much this department offered somebody in my area last year so I had a good idea of what was reasonable, but I have no idea how to generally deal with this problem of naming amounts in a non-negotiation, nor how to set a value when I lack the inside info I had for this interview. Any tips from more experienced folks?

  • tideliar says:

    Excellent post! Very useful - bookmarked into my WORK folder

  • This is great. I'm bookmarking this and hope to have an excuse to pull this back out in a few years (I'm only 2 years into my postdoc).

    That said, something that nobody ever talks about is junior faculty salaries. How much negotiation goes on here? What is the general range these days for new hires? I'm sure it varies with cost of living, but this is something that never gets discussed and could be useful for those of us who might be negotiating offers in the coming years.

  • Namnezia says:

    NatC - can you write a cool guest post in MY blog too?

    • NatC says:

      Namnezia! Thanks! What a great offer! I'm sure there's a way we can make that work. Got a topic? I'm good at um...networking!!
      I've got to warn you though, I 'm much better at negotiations these days...

      • namnezia says:

        You're welcome to post about any topic you want! And stir up all sorts of trouble if you wish! I hate networking, so...there, maybe you'd have something useful to say about it. But I won't offer you drinks, or food or even cookies.

  • NatC says:

    Thanks everyone! I had a blast. Now I (we) need to remember to implement it all!

  • @ Sarah: I had this problem too. My solution was to be very vague. I described the size of lab I wanted (number of rigs, that kind of thing), but didn't name a number. My logic: that gives them a ballpark estimate, which is all they need at this point, but also doesn't box me in. Many people told me they decide if they want you FIRST, and then they figure out if they can pay for it. Presumably they are just making sure you aren't going to demand the moon. Nobody ever pressed me on it.

    @ DJ Jazzy Jeff: Nobody I talked to had any success negotiating salary. People were a lot less willing to share that information than they were startup though, so I dont know for sure. Myself, I didn't even try. But make sure you learn how the summer salary works, whether you get it your first summer, how many months, etc. It sounds hypothetical now, but it turns into real money soon!

  • Dr Becca says:

    W00t! HUGE SUCCESS with this guest post. NatC, you are the awesomest.

    @DJJW, I did not negotiate my starting salary, but I believe it has been done. It can't hurt--at that point, they definitely want you, your startup package is basically set, it's not like they're going to renege on the whole thing because you ask for $5k more, you know? The worst they can do is say it's non-negotiable.

  • Dr. Cynicism says:

    Okay -- I totally love this post. Me = won over 🙂

  • [...] of another guest post by the most excellent NatC, who you may recall put forth some most excellent wisdom on negotiating not long ago. Dr C is just coming back to earth after a  hugely successful run on the TT interview [...]

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