Negotiation: Getting past some of the barriers we erect for ourselves


Negotiation can look like this.
Adapted from more on 360 BY-NC Esthr/Esther Dyson

A lot of people I talk to are kind of reluctant to try to change any terms when they’re presented with a contract to sign in their daily lives. It’s true that a lot of the contracts we’re presented with in daily lives really -aren’t- negotiable (ever read the back of your Best Buy receipt, or tried to customize the iTunes terms of service?) But we also do sometimes have real contracts in front of us, with real people on the other end – and yet, a lot of people never negotiate. Here’s a few theories I have about why people don’t negotiate:

  • Negotiating about contract terms is not worth my time!
    Often associated with “I didn’t read it”, and with a side order of
    • “This is too complicated for me to understand”
    • “It doesn’t really matter what I agree to”, and/or
    • “They’re not out to get me, so it’ll all be fine.”
  • Negotiating about contracts is rude
  • Negotiating about contracts is really scary!

As to the first reason for not negotiating: if you subscribe to any version of this, you’re just being ridiculous. If a contract is too complicated for you to read, it is -very likely- not to favor your interests. If the other party wants to deal with you fairly, they’ll be willing to rewrite it in ways you do understand, or they’ll encourage you to review it with an expert, such as your own lawyer. Also, it -does- matter what you agree to; which you’ll find out if you ever end up in legal interactions about the contract, or even if you need to continue business dealings with the other party in the future. And while the other party may not be out to get you, even the most honorable contract-drafter writes their contracts to deal with their own issues and needs; most drafters write to give their “side” as many advantages as possible.

Rude negotiators, negotiating rudely.
Arguing Penguins BY-NC-ND nouQraz/Adam Arroyo

As to the second reason: it’s totally possible to be extremely rude when negotiating, if you behave rudely while you’re doing it. However, if a polite request to discuss the terms of a contract is met with offense, the offended party may be trying to intimidate you into signing something that’s not advantageous to you. That’s definitely not always true – there are people who are actually offended by requests to negotiate. But that offense may indicate some other reasons to be wary of doing business with those folks – they may not very good at treating business as “business”.

As to the third reason: yep, negotiating can be scary. Especially if you are not used to, or just not comfortable with, asserting yourself. Especially if the other party has something you want, or has more power than you (be it social power, economic power, physical power, etc.) Especially if you think asking to negotiate may take the whole deal off the table.

These reasons not to negotiate are harder to counter, because they are totally valid feelings. I will say that asserting yourself (usually, often, sometimes?) gets easier the more you do it – and can be way more dysfunctional at the other end of the spectrum (see, e.g., Donald Trump.) I will say that asking to negotiate with people who really do have the intention to do business will rarely result in them taking the whole deal off the table – though they may, in fact, refuse to make any changes. And finally, I will also say that, if someone wants you to sign a contract with them it is almost always because -you- have something -they- want, too – and that gives you some power to build from!

Coming soon: times when I have negotiated about copyright, and about other issues. In the meantime, have I left anything out? What other things have you seen that have made it hard for people to negotiate?

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