Watch out for urgency as a tactic in negotiation

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Have you ever felt rushed through a negotiation? Where the timelines that are provided don’t really give you enough space to think through the implications of what you’re agreeing to? You’re not alone. Time is frequently manipulated as a tactic by experienced negotiators – and if you’re not prepared to overcome an imposed sense of urgency, you risk making poor decisions, whether it’s related to a new job or new business.

One of my clients recently told me about her experience in an interview process. It was a long process – a few months – with lots of steps and lengthy periods of radio silence. Two weeks after they checked her references, she received a phone call offering her the job. And they needed to have an answer by the end of day.

Let’s just pause and snort at the indignity of that demand, shall we? After months of sporadic and drawn out interactions, she was given less than 8 hours to make a decision about the next stage of her life. In what universe is this reasonable?

Her mind, of course, went to the urgency of the request. She thought, “there must be something important that they need me to work on.” My mind went immediately to the recognition that they were using an age-old tactic of distracting her with an urgent request so she would focus on whether she wanted the job and not on whether the offer was fair.

It’s a common tactic because it commonly works

When you get a job offer or an offer to engage in new business, a lot happens in your mind. You’re excited about the possibilities and start planning your future. How will you build the necessary relationships? Shore up the skills you need to be effective? Exceed the expectations of your new boss or client?

You’re excited, because what you’ve been working for is coming into reality. In the case of my client, she had been deeply invested in this process for months:

  • Customized her resume
  • Prepared a screening exercise
  • Interviewed not once, but twice
  • Called her references and explained what her new job would be
  • Patiently waited for that call

Her anticipation was palpable, but endlessly delayed by the sluggish process. And so, when the offer came, she wanted to just say yes immediately. She wanted the process done. She wanted to move forward with her life, into this new and exciting chapter.

Thankfully, she and I have known each other for a long time, and so she called me immediately for advice.

It’s not a negotiation if you don’t negotiate

The tactic of providing an urgent request is one that works well. I don’t have data to point to, but anecdotally women are much more likely than men to play into the urgency and just accept or decline the job offer by the deadline. We know that 60% of women will never negotiate for a job offer in their entire lives – even though the person on the other side of the table expects them to.

In some cases, women get so wrapped up in the question of whether to take the job or not, that they fail to recognize there is an opportunity to negotiate.

Sometimes women will ask if the offer can be negotiated. The person you’re dealing with is probably going to say something like, “not really” – an answer that is noncommittal, but which conveys a feeling that it’s not really possible. By the way, if you’re thinking of asking this question, please don’t. It’s like asking permission to ask for more. Drop the Victorian-era protocols of absurd politeness and just do it.

Another factor is the perceived effort that has gone into the offer. Often, the other person will email details of the agreement, might be extensive. It will look like it has taken a long time to prepare. And that assumption predisposes us to accept it as is.  As women, we are socialized to never “be a bother”. Think of how many times in your life you have heard your mother or grandmothers say those words when people offer them even the most basic of benefits. “Baba, do you want me to pick up some lunch?” “Oh, well, I don’t want to be a bother.” When it comes to an agreement that you are signing, which affects your income or revenue, please, choose to be a bother (a respectful one, but a bother nonetheless).

Most often, the end of the day comes, and a woman either says yes or no. But I want you to know one very important piece of information. 

Questions can be answers too

Yes and no are not the only acceptable answers. When the time comes to call the other person, your answer can be that you are excited about the offer and want to say yes, but that you have a few questions and items you’d like to negotiate.

Use that opportunity to ask about the details within the offer. What’s included? What are the expectations? What are the terms of any bonus offers or additional items of compensation? Until your questions are exhausted, do not sign the agreement.

And of course, use the opportunity to negotiate for the terms that are not ideal for you. Remember, experienced negotiators are offering you the lowest package that they think you might say yes to. They know you are going to negotiate and rationalize it in your head. And as a woman, there is a 60% chance you won’t push back against anything.

But they are prepared for you to negotiate. They have room to increase the salary or rate, to offer flexibility or mutual benefits. But they won’t do it unless you ask.

Use the urgency in your favour

In most circumstances, they do not need you to sign the offer today. It’s just a tactic to get you to say yes and let them move on to the next issue on their task list.

On the other hand, if this is actually a priority for them, then it’s powerful leverage you can use. For example, you might respond with, “I’m happy to sign today, but I’d need a 20% increase to say yes right now.”

This isn’t a typical situation in a job offer. But it does come up in business more often than you’d think. For example, if there is grant or government funding on the line and the other organization needs to have its agreements in place prior to a certain date, this can be something you use to your advantage. Ask for what you’d love to get, and offer them the chance to have you sign the agreement that day.

Slow down the game

I remember playing high school basketball, and my coach Mr. Carman would always tell us to “slow down the game.” Slowing down gave us the opportunity to look around, assess the situation, and be strategic in our own awkward ways. Negotiation is a bit like that. Except, typically, it has much bigger opportunities and implications at stake.

We experience an adrenaline rush when we get an offer, and we do love saying yes as women (this is something else we need to work on). But if we can slow down the negotiation process, we can better assess the offer, determine if it meets our needs, and identify where it would need to be improved for us to sign.

Rarely will an offer ever be withdrawn because you ask questions or ask for more. And let’s be honest, if that’s the case, then I hope you’d be wondering what the other person is hiding.

Employment agreements and service contracts are commitments. You shouldn’t be pressured into signing because someone arbitrarily decides to impose a deadline. Do your homework. Stay respectful and get in touch when you say you will. Ask good questions. Negotiate with curiosity and intent.

Keep on learning

If you are an entrepreneur and you take value from these blog posts, then consider arming yourself with the essential skills you need to negotiate for what you deserve every single day in your business. Check out Essential Skills for Entrepreneurs.

If you’re applying for jobs or you have an offer on the table, then sign up for my crash course in salary negotiation, to help you maximize your salary, benefits and opportunities through confident and effective negotiation.

If you’re not quite there, but enjoy learning more every week, then follow #fearlessnegotiation on social media and sign up below for my weekly newsletter, which offers advice, tips, and real life stories about how to incorporate negotiation into your life every day.

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