When I Talk About ‘Negotiation’

We negotiate all the time, whether we notice it or not. I see negotiation in conversations every day, but that’s probably because I now possess a ‘conflict resolution’ mindset. You might not see these regular interactions as ‘negotiations’, but they often are! To you they probably look like:

  • vacation planning
  • working with colleagues
  • making household decisions
  • parenting
  • purchasing products or services

Here’s a story to illustrate.

Last December I opened a brief Employment Insurance claim when the contract I had been working on ended. On E.I. I was permitted to make $105/week on top of my payments; anything more they would deduct. I have a friend, we’ll call her Jennifer, who owns a retail business and December is (of course) her super busy month. She asked me if I wanted a bit of work there, thinking it would help me out (since I had no job) and it would help her out (since she only needed one additional employee for three weeks). I accepted Jennifer’s offer saying I would be pleased to give her a hand and it would be fun to be around the busy holiday shoppers. I also explained to her that I only wanted to make about $100 per week. In my recollection, we made a verbal agreement about this over the telephone.

Two weeks later I started the gig and received some basic training on the cash register system. At the end of my second shift I was getting the hang of working there. That’s when Jennifer called over to me, “come and tell me what you think of this schedule.” As soon as I saw how many shifts she had slotted me for, I knew I would be making much more than $105/week. My first thought was, “doesn’t she remember me saying I don’t want to work this much?” My next thought was, “doesn’t she care?” These thoughts left me feeling annoyed and disregarded

I knew Jennifer was stressed about coverage, especially with extended store hours the week before Christmas. I was definitely disappointed about being scheduled for shifts I didn’t want but I chose not to show Jennifer that because I didn’t want to contribute to her worry. Instead I demonstrated my surprise (“that’s more shifts than I expected!”) and I inquired about the possibility of other employees working more shifts. Jennifer had been working a long time on the schedule and she seemed slightly upset by my questions, so I decided to go home and think about things and bring up the schedule issue tomorrow.

Besides helping my friend out, my only other plans for December were to hang out with my son during his school holiday and spend lots of time at the ski hill (I had purchased my season pass months before). I could do those things while bringing in $1692 for the month on E.I. Or I could help my friend during her crazy busy time of year and make $2007. Really, I much preferred the idea of making less money while skiing than an extra $315 while working retail, but I also truly did want to give Jennifer a hand and I didn’t want to hurt our relationship. I decided I was ready to negotiate.

The next day I wasn’t scheduled to work but I went into the store in the morning when I didn’t think it would be too busy. I asked Jennifer, “Can we talk for a few minutes about the schedule?” She looked surprised but said, “okay.” This was me opening the negotiation by introducing the issue: the schedule. I followed this up with a piece of neutral, factual information: “This week I am scheduled for 25 hours in the store, which means gross pay of $250. However I will only receive $105 from that.”

Then I listened while Jennifer explained that she felt squeezed between getting enough coverage and having to accommodate the needs of 5 employees. All the time Jennifer talked I looked at her with warmth and interest, showing her with my facial expression that I cared about the store’s holiday schedule and that I cared about her. My relaxed body posture demonstrated that I was not taking a rigid position on the topic; I was happy to hear what she had to say and I was not attached to any particular solution.

The biggest fatal error I see when people negotiate is that they put their solution to the issue into the way they state the issue. This would be like if I had said, “I want to talk about reducing my hours at the store” instead of “I want to talk about the schedule.” In this example ‘reducing my hours at the store’ is my position; it’s not a issue that is neutral for either Jennifer or I.

Jennifer could see that I was interested in having a work schedule that felt comfortable for me because I came in proposing that we talk and I opened up the conversation in a collaborative way. What she couldn’t see was that I was negotiating with her, but that didn’t matter. I knew we both wanted the same thing: a schedule that worked for everyone. After a few minutes of Jennifer talking we threw around some ideas and only a short while later we had re-worked the schedule so that both of us liked it better than the earlier one. Success!