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Why Are Some People Afraid to Negotiate?

Scared woman hiding in officeLast week, a participant in one of our seminars sent us a question regarding the negotiation of a raise. When we talked with the participant, they stated that s/he had wanted to ask for a raise for over two years, but had been afraid to meet with their boss and hold the discussion regarding wages.

Fear about negotiating something as important as your job or how much money you make is normal. In fact, we tend to find that the more important something is to a person, the more emotions are involved in the negotiation. When emotion is involved, the emotion is usually fear. Other common reasons people may fear negotiation include:

  • Concern with how your counterpart will see you: In the above example, the employees may have been worried that their boss would see them as being greedy or ungrateful because they asked for a raise. Those thoughts had an impact on how they felt about approaching their boss and discussing salary.

  • Lack of knowledge about the process or individual: If your goal is to buy a house, and this is your first home purchase, when the real estate agent tells you she has made a previous offer to this homeowner and she is quite certain that your offer of 30 percent below the seller’s asking price will infuriate him, it could make you fearful of moving forward with the offer.

  • Fear of conflict: When we asked a CEO why he did not coach and counsel one of his hot-headed senior executives, he replied, “Because I fear sitting down with him and having his temper unleashed on me.” If the boss felt this way, you can only imagine how other peers and direct reports of this deviant vice president must have felt.

  • Fear of the unknown: At a conference, I recommended to another consultant–who was not making enough money to sustain either his business or his family–that he increase his rates and offer even more value to his clients. His response to my suggestion was, “My clients will never pay a higher rate and I don’t want to take a chance of losing the business.” When I asked him if he had ever presented a higher priced, higher value proposal to one of his clients, he stated, “I have not, because I fear losing their business.”

  • Size: Although this may sound funny, size can be fearful and intimidating. Big companies, people with big reputations and/or titles, big law firms, big numbers or quantities, and big deals can all be daunting, especially if you have never negotiated with that person or that type/size of deal in the past.

Although people may have needs and goals that they want met, if they fear the negotiation, or believe the outcome will be bad or unsuccessful, some people change their needs and goals and pursue other interests. A great example is marriage. A husband who fears talking to his wife about certain topics, eventually stops talking about the topics, and pursues another goal: getting a divorce and finding someone easier to negotiate with. An employee who is fearful of their boss’ reactions eventually gets the courage to find another job.

If you do discover butterflies in your stomach as you think about an upcoming negotiation, these tips will at least help get the butterflies to fly in formation and improve your outcomes.

  • Identify what you fear: We recommend that you write down your specific fears. Our clients agree that if you don’t make note of your fears, you tend to have the same fearful thoughts over and over. Once you have your fears clearly identified, you are ready to tackle the key points listed below.

  • Preparation: Once you have identified your fears, you can take on the next step of doing your homework to find the necessary information and develop a plan, with options, to ensure your fears don’t become a reality. If you feel you might pay a home seller too much, spend the time to do a market analysis on the property in markets that are up, down, and flat. With that information, you should feel more confident that your offer is in your long term best interests.

  • Establish a goal, wish, and bottom line: People who are fearful tend to open up the negotiation at their established goal. If they want to buy a house listed on the market for $175,000, they offer $175,000. It is a mistake that most likely is going to trigger more fear. Great negotiators also identify a wish–I would really be excited if I could buy this house for $160,000 and make that their first offer–and identify a bottom line–if this house goes over $185,000, I am going to walk away and find another house. When you have clearly identified these three points, especially your bottom line, you have a lot less to be fearful about.

  • Ask questions: People who are fearful can sometimes make the mistake of talking too much. Have the courage to ask questions that will help you to advance your goals or alleviate your fears. Once you have asked the questions, shut up and listen. And then ask another question based on the information you just received.

  • Don’t assume your counterpart has the exact same goals that you do: When fearful, people tend to assume that their counterparts have the exact same needs and goals that they do. Nothing could be further from the truth. We bought a $15,000 copy machine that was listed for $18,000. I assumed that the salesperson wanted to get the highest possible price. My goal was to get the lowest possible price. After the sale was complete, the salesperson told me that his number one goal was to make the sale prior to the end of the month so he won the company’s contest. Knowing his true goal, I probably should have told him business had slowed and we could only budget $13,000 on the last day of the month. Price was this salesperson’s explicit goal. Winning the trip and being the company champion was his implicit, unspoken goal. Most of the time your counterpart will have unique needs and goals. With great questions, you can almost always find out what those implicit goals are and utilize them to your advantage.

  • Remember, you have more power than you think you do: It is important to remember that, almost always, power is equally balanced. When clients debate this point with me, I ask them the following questions:

    • Does your counterpart still return your emails and calls?
    • Does the counterpart counter when you put in an offer for your product or service?

    If the answer to the above questions is yes, you have more power than you think you do. If the client truly does not need what you have, and they are unwilling to communicate with you, you are right, they may have an unbalanced power. But, even in this specific situation, if you wrote about the client in the newspaper or told their boss that they were unwilling to work with you to resolve a problem, you may find that with a new strategy, you hold power.

  • Ask yourself, am I the best person to negotiate? The employee we talked about at the beginning of the article who fears holding this discussion with the boss, has other options. They may hold the discussion with someone in HR, let the HR team member know they feel they are not competitively paid, are thinking about leaving the organization, and would like HR to help them gain a higher compensation based on experience and job responsibilities. If this person’s boss and the HR person truly value the employee’s contributions, this could be an effective strategy.

  • Be willing to walk away: A great line we like to use is, “I like or want it, but not that much.” When you are always willing to walk away, you have a lot less to fear. Of course, the best relationships, both personally and in business, are when both counterparts are equally committed to the relationship. The challenge with fear is, usually the fearful person feels they are more committed to the relationship than the other counterpart.

Negotiation can be intimidating, but understanding why you feel the way you do, and learning how to overcome the fear, will pay dividends in future negotiations.

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