Have you thought, “How assertive should I be? Where do I draw the line?” before a negotiation or important conversation?
Your level of assertiveness is a tactic. It’s good to know when to play nice and when to get tough.
The first place to start is to ask yourself, “Do I care about my relationship with the other person, and if so, to what extent?”
When we’re negotiating for a salary or a promotion, we often care deeply about the relationship. Our negotiation strategy can have longer-term repercussions on our work relationship and can impact the offer that’s on the table. In this scenario, I always recommend a collaborative approach.
However, there are plenty of negotiations where the relationship is not that important. Maybe you’re negotiating the price of a car and you won’t be seeing this person again, or perhaps you’re negotiating the price of having your AC fixed.
These negotiations also impact our finances and confidence.
Have you ever walked out of a situation and felt regret? Perhaps you should have pushed a little harder for that discount. Or, you left feeling like someone to advantage of you.
When there’s no long-term relationship at stake, you’re welcome to be more assertive and push to get the maximum value out of the negotiation. However, there’s still a risk involved.
Here’s how to do it, and what could go wrong or right.
Always Gather Information. What Do You Have to Leverage?
Last year my husband and I moved into a new apartment. Our mailbox lock was broken so we called a locksmith to fix it. My husband wasn’t home, so I went downstairs to meet the locksmith.
He inspected the mailbox, then said: “That will be $250.”
“Umm, say what?” I was not happy.
As a back and forth conversation between the locksmith and me ensued, I tried to gather as much information as I could.
First, we were having a typical New York City blizzard. The locksmith drove a decent way, about 45 minutes.
I could gather he was eager to do the job, get paid, and peace out.
My response to his quote was, “No, thanks. I’ll call someone else.”
The locksmith had anchored the negotiation with such a high price. In this case, I had to show it was so unacceptable, I was willing to back off completely. Furthermore, I wasn’t desperate to fix the lock so I didn’t have much to lose.
I could have countered a lower price (i.e. $100 or $150), but I needed to show there was no bargaining zone with the price he offered.
(Note: I find that aiming high with strangers and in low-risk situations is a great way to practice your assertiveness. It gets easier with time.)
Note the Size of Concessions
Because the locksmith wanted to get paid something (he’d driven a long way after all), he got ready to negotiate.
“Fine. I’ll do it for $150.”
He reduced his ask by 40 percent, so I knew then that he had a lot of wiggle room. Furthermore, the dramatic drop in the price told me he had been trying to take advantage of me.
Re-anchor the Negotiation. Welcome the Back and Forth
“I’ll give you $50,” was my response. With this number, I showed I was willing to work with him, but we were still far from an agreement.
We ended up at $85.
Negotiate through Someone Else
Sometimes it helps to emphasize your position by blaming someone else. This is another roadblock the other person needs to overcome.
This time, I called my husband and negotiated through him.
“Yeah, I’m checking with my husband now. We just can’t afford $150,” I said with phone on hand.
Negotiating through another person takes some of the responsibility off you as the decision isn’t up to you alone.
The Risk You Take
The locksmith spent maybe 10 minutes fixing the lock, I paid him the $85, and he was on his way.
I felt great. Sheryl Sandberg would be proud.
But, the next day, the mailbox lock broke again, and we were unable to get in touch with the locksmith. He wasn’t answering our calls.
While I’d been happy I negotiated a much lower price, I also understood how risky this type of negotiation could be.
Be mindful of the value you’re extracting. If it’s too much, it could come at a cost.
The locksmith obviously felt like he lost out, so it wasn’t worth it for him to do a great job. Furthermore, I didn’t do enough to protect myself in that likely scenario. (He was a contractor with several companies, and somewhere along the way I misplaced his employment details.)
Every negotiation is unique, and depending on the situation, your level of assertiveness is a tactic you can practice. Think about the long-term relationship. What are you willing to risk, and how much? Also, how can you protect yourself against the risk you take?
Don’t forget to download this free negotiation framework to help you prep for your next conversation. Take it on the go, set a strategy, always ask.
And as always, let me know in the comments, did you pick up any new insights from the example I shared?