In her first book, negotiation guru Mori Taheripour offers readers more than a decade of expertise honed as both a faculty member at the Wharton School of Business and adviser to organizations such as the NFL and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. Even in the midst of economic crisis, she insists, it’s important to negotiate—and to get creative about how.
Negotiations become more, not less, critical at times like these, when the economy is struggling and unemployment is running high. Whether you’re setting a price for your side hustle, or bargaining with clients or an employer seeking to downsize your regular pay, while you may not have much leverage in the moment, setting the stage for the comeback is key.
“It’s important to make sure that your clients don’t expect deep discounts to continue,” she says.
The following excerpt from Bring Yourself: How to Harness the Power of Connection to Negotiate Fearlessly takes a look at how negotiation is about more than establishing your value; it’s a tool for problem solving and finding your voice:
I typically hire my former students to work as teacher’s assistants for me. Almost without fail, when I ask them their rate they say, “Oh, I don’t need to get paid. It’s just a great opportunity to work with you.”
I always respond, “If you don’t want any money, then I’m not going to hire you, because you’re going to go through life thinking that people don’t value your time and your effort. And I want you to understand that I value your time and your effort, and my simply saying that isn’t enough.” I understand their inclination, though. If I were in my twenties again and my professor offered me a job, I wouldn’t immediately say, “How much are you paying me?” The psyche of saying, “I don’t need to get paid” makes perfect sense. But these proclamations become habit-forming, and when they become subconscious, they also become dangerous.
The process of undercutting your value is very subtle—it starts as a tiny snowball that then collects more and more momentum until it’s become a dangerous avalanche. Here’s how it might go: Perhaps you’re concerned about your ability to attract clients, so when you offer a proposal for your work, the proposal includes a lot of your valuable knowledge. You feel you need to overperform and blow their socks off—you don’t trust that you’re compelling enough for them to take a risk by hiring you. The problem is, you’re so concerned about proving yourself that you’ve just given all of your value away. Why would they pay you when you will offer so much for free?
When they won’t pay for your knowledge, it then undermines your value even more. Perhaps you drop your price down for the next potential client. Your course has been set, and it’s difficult to change. Others will see that you don’t think much of your value, and they’ll take advantage, because people will take what you give them.
My philosophy is, let there be some exchange of value, even if it’s not monetary. For instance, if I asked a former student to do a small job for me, I would hope that he would at least say, “I don’t want money, but will you write me a letter of recommendation for law school, which I know will take you time?” There has to be some level of back and forth, of give and take, so that you don’t subconsciously decrease what your worth actually is.
There are many smart reasons to work without compensation of a financial nature. You may want to make yourself relevant to an organization. You might be able to put the company’s name on your client list, which increases your brand’s legitimacy. The work itself might bring you fulfillment. And if you walk away without a paycheck, you’ve still come out ahead.
The bottom line is that you have to be very thoughtful in making decisions about what you’re giving up, the effort you’re putting in, and what you may be getting in return. It’s not opportunistic so much as it’s strategic. It’s also about honoring yourself and the value you’re expending. A transaction is never just about a financial gain, but rather about the reciprocity of respect for one another’s value. Checking in with yourself regularly to ensure that you’re finding fulfillment and that you’re valued—whether it’s in the form of compensation, relationship, or a learning opportunity—is critical. If you don’t feel valued, and yet you continue to give, you may begin to doubt your worth, leading to habits that further the negative cycle. Alternatively, you may become resentful, which is equally detrimental.
It’s particularly easy to fall into bad habits in a down economy, where you give one or two people a deal and then the new price becomes their expectation, or worse, yours. Don’t punish yourself if you’ve done this—a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners are particularly vulnerable to this thinking as they struggle through rough financial patches or attempt to attract clients. It’s called survival!
Adapted from BRING YOURSELF by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2020, Mori Taheripour.