Ellie sat across from me and sheepishly admitted that she wasn’t a good negotiator. As a powerful government procurement agent, you would have thought that she had contract negotiations down to a science. When pressed, Ellie admitted that she knew the business details, but felt insecure when pressed by her counterpart. She thought it was personal. Her insecurities left her feeling vulnerable.
I felt like yelling, “OMG it is so not personal!” Why is it that women take things so darned personally? It is not personal when someone asks for a better deal, or questions the details. It is not about you. It is all about them. I can promise you that. Ellie is not the only one who let’s her insecurities get the better of her.
See, we women think that the person across the bargaining table is questioning our competence on a very personal level. In reality when people are bargaining, they question their counterpart because they have to in order to get a great deal. Meaning, it is not about you, the beautiful woman. It is about the procurement officer who is the impediment to my getting a better deal. BIG difference.
I can hear all the cries from successful women, “How do I not take it personally? It feels so personal.” There are a few simple things that you can do right now to reduce—if not eliminate—this insecurity.
The first step is to imagine that you are in a clear, plastic bubble. You might be old enough to remember John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. It kept him safe, while allowing him to see and experience what was happening on the outside. I was given this valuable piece of advice years ago when I started mediating business disputes, and it has helped me immensely. I imagine the questioning, demanding, suspicious behavior as hitting the bubble—not me, personally.
The second step is to recognize that bargaining is a process with its own set of rules and ethics. The process requires questioning, challenging and a healthy amount of suspicion because the bargaining process encourages bluffing, posturing and puffery. I’ve trained and coached hundreds of business people. Some of them are perfectly nice to have lunch with, but turn into real sharks at the bargaining table. It is not you. It could be anyone and they’d be circling looking for blood in the water.
The third step is to rely on your innate questioning skills. We will question ourselves and our kids, but we won’t question the other guy. What is that all about any way? If your ten year-old asked you for a butcher knife you’d stop and ask a question. If your customer asks you to butcher your price you say, “It must be me. I didn’t sell the value well enough.” Ask the same question you’d ask your ten year-old, “why?”
These steps will give you both emotional and physical distance. Emotional distance to recognize that the process itself has its own rule book and that you can protect yourself by imaging that you are in a bubble. The physical distance comes from asking questions. It slows the process down long enough to allow you to uncover the hidden motivation behind your counterpart’s behavior.
Confidence at the bargaining is palpable. Professionals like me spot insecurity. (By the way, men puff their tail feathers when they are insecure. It is just as telling as when a woman blushes when questioned.) Confidence comes less from knowing the details of the deals than managing your mind and your own thoughts. You are creating the problem in your own head when you allow your mind to create the story that you must have done something wrong. Change that story to, “This is how it goes at the bargaining table.”