Overcoming the fear of negotiations

May 15, 2020

My dear readers, I am a member of a Toastmasters club. Of course, this means I deliver speeches. It would be a shame if those speeches wouldn't eventually end up as written posts, wouldn't it? As follows was my latest speech, on negotiations. Of course, slightly edited, as notes are never the same as the speech ends up being delivered. Enjoy!

Ladies and gentlemen, dear fellow Toastmasters and guests. Is there some activity out there in the world which scares you. Something that you know you are truly bad at up to the point where you are ashamed? I truly understand how you feel, for one such activity for me is negotiations. Several months ago, while I was dodging this speech topic like the plague I would have folded any negotiation and given in to anyone's demands.

Now, I am by no means a master... but having done my share of research into the subject, having spent several months in a leadership role in this wonderful club, and having paid attention to certain interactions I've had that could resemble negotiations, I have learned to overcome my fears. I have made a simple mental model to help me tackle negotiations.

Would you like to hear how it works?

I've started building a mental map to navigate these moments. A map I want to share with you. And although the map can be complex, if you know just the basics, it might help you overcome your fears as well.

The first thing you need to know on a map, is where you are. For this, I like to ask myself: Am I negotiating or am I selling?

The fact that selling and negotiation are distinct was not obvious at first. It only became obvious, after reading about the subject. Let's take the dreaded job interview as an example. I've been there, you've been there, you've passed the tests and now you're in the room with your future boss negotiating pay. And if you're like me you might be worried that you have no idea how much you are worth, and that you may be asking for too much. Raise your hand if that sounds familiar.

See, the worry is founded on a fear of not getting job, of the boss saying "that's too much". But, wait, you had already passed the tests. You got the job. why should you be afraid of not getting the job? You're already past the selling stage.

Negotiations take place after selling, they are there to establish fine details, not to convince.

If an interview is a high stakes scenario, one can also see this in simple low risk areas, like our club.

Say I took a role in a meeting. Say it's one of the facilitator roles, like a general evaluator. This was a sale, I got the role. I can now negotiate with my colleague, the Toastmaster, how much of the meeting I want under my control. I may want to practice evaluating more than facilitating and ask him to coordinate more sections of the meeting than usually. But whatever I do, it's not reaaaaally within the cards to lose my role.

Am I selling? Or am I negotiating? That is how I know where I am on the map.

But knowing where I am is not all. One must also find out where they are going, and the question for that is simple: What do I want?

Simply negotiating to get a better outcome felt confusing when all I could imagine was "get a better outcome", "higher value", "more money". Those are too vague to help me know what to do and not freeze. Knowing specifically what I want can help me make different decisions and adjust to different contexts.

Take scheduling speeches in our meetings for example. Throughout the year we're had many times when the speech request queue was too crowded or too empty. Yet, just following a rule to assign people was never enough. In order to know who I accept in one meeting or the other I would constantly have to ask myself what do I want for this meeting, or from these speakers. A person would ask for a Romanian speech and I may want them to deliver it in English due to lower attendance that day or let them choose their language. It all depended on context.

And context here can be even more specific. Take Adi for example. He's close to achieving one of the higher educational awards Toastmasters had to offer. For that, he had to deliver multiple speeches throughout the year, and still has a couple left. What I want in a negotiation with him is not to fill up the next meeting, but rather to complete enough speeches throughout the year. Thus my approach to negotiations of when a speech takes place needs to be done more often, and planned in advance.

That is my map. Where am I? In a negotiation or in a sale? Do I have to convince or to establish details? And where am I going? Specifically. What do I want?

You can fill this map with more complex rules for how to take left or right turns on your way, but to get started, and to take the first step... At least know where you are and where you are going.