The Best Negotiating Advice: Don’t Be a Rebel

Modern Family CastIt’s called biting the hand that feeds you. The latest example comes from Hollywood, where the cast of the award-winning comedy “Modern Family” has sued the company that produces the show. The grounds for the legal action is reportedly violation of work contracts. The subtext seems to be an attempt by the cast to get more money.

Not that the cast members were making chump change. But in a unified action to secure better pay, they took their cause to the next level. And when you go public, the way the cast has done, you’re perceived as being a rebel.

About now, you’re probably thinking about all the times you’ve heard your own bosses – in response to your “reasonable” requests for a raise, a departmental purchase or a health or recreational benefit for the team – throw their hands up in the air and exclaim, “There’s no budget!”

What do you do when the other side refuses to budge? As a negotiation expert, I advise my clients that the last thing they want to do is get labeled as a revolutionary.

Here’s a corporate analogy. Let’s say you’re a manager in charge of an annual summer company event that all the employees look forward to enjoying. The budget you’ve been promised has been drastically cut, which will mean you’ll have to eliminate certain components of this traditional celebration. You try to be clever, so you do some creative accounting and pull money from elsewhere. When your boss finds out, you’re judged not as having the smarts to having procured the money from another source, but as insubordinate.

In short, you acted before attempting to negotiate, becoming a rebel by default. And just because you believed you had a “just cause,” you’re not off the hook.

In our example, the manager, eager to maintain the standards of the summer event, could have done it differently. He or she could have created an effective negotiating strategy by choosing a valid mission of purpose. This means showing the boss how the summer event benefits the company. More specifically, the manager could have explained how this annual event was part of tradition, that it boosted morale, that it helped support local businesses, and that the employees valued and appreciated it.

Another possibility for our manager would have been to ask his supervisor for permission to get donations from employees to take care of the shortfall in budget. Again, all this canvassing – and it can be time-consuming – needs to be done before going against orders from the top.

Hollywood is a publicity machine. And when there are stars of one of the most popular series on television involved, the chances are slim that the talent will be fired for insolence. In the real world, it’s a different story. Negotiation – not rebellion – should always be your first option.

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Jim Camp (www.startwithno.com) is founder and CEO of The Camp Negotiation Institute, a negotiation-training organization with more than 400 students from 24 countries enrolled in its Team Member courses. He is author of the internationally best-selling books, Start with No: The Negotiating Tools that the Pros Don’t Want You to Know and NO: The Only System of Negotiation You Need for Work or Home, and a 6-CD audio program The Power of No. He was a featured panelist at Harvard’s 2012 Negotiation & Leadership Conference.

(Photo: ABC)

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    • Lastango

      “As a negotiation expert, I advise my clients that the last thing they want to do is get labeled as a revolutionary.”
      Quite so. Anyone who wants to build a career should never position themselves as being outside the organization or its structures. Urges to do this should lead to self-examination about whether one belongs in an organization — any organization (they’re all the same, despite the counterculture posturing at companies using decor, office design, and other theatre to posture as post-corporate, free-form environments.)
      One other thing about negotiation: it’s not always possible to negotiate. When the response is “it’s not in the budget”, at a lot of companies that’s a show-stopper. There really is no flexibility, and there are no alternative sources. Anyone who keeps pushing in the face of reality will look irrational.
      One tactic to consider is to reframe the question in terms of the company’s larger interests — and then turn the search for solutions back to the same people who set up the roadblocks. That puts them under some pressure to discover alternatives, and helps relieve the person trying to improve the situation from the risks of becoming an outsider. In this example, after outlining the benefits of the summer event, our hero can ask decision-makers how they think the organization might be able to preserve some of those benefits. Ask in an open-ended way, and leave the question with them. If they do nothing more than hit the ball back, they’re putting themselves in position of having to listen to alternatives someone else develops.
      One last bit of advice to our fearless problem-solver: know when to fold ‘em. Don’t wreck yourself. If the summer event fails, it fails. It wasn’t your call, and it’s not your fault.

    • Lastango

      “As a negotiation expert, I advise my clients that the last thing they want to do is get labeled as a revolutionary.”
      Quite so. Anyone who wants to build a career should never position themselves as being outside the organization or its structures. Urges to do this should lead to self-examination about whether one belongs in an organization — any organization (they’re all the same, despite the counterculture posturing at companies using decor, office design, and other theatre to posture as post-corporate, free-form environments.)
      One other thing about negotiation: it’s not always possible to negotiate. When the response is “it’s not in the budget”, at a lot of companies that’s a show-stopper. There really is no flexibility, and there are no alternative sources. Anyone who keeps pushing in the face of reality will look irrational.
      One tactic to consider is to reframe the question in terms of the company’s larger interests — and then turn the search for solutions back to the same people who set up the roadblocks. That puts them under some pressure to discover alternatives, and helps relieve the person trying to improve the situation from the risks of becoming an outsider. In this example, after outlining the benefits of the summer event, our hero can ask decision-makers how they think the organization might be able to preserve some of those benefits. Ask in an open-ended way, and leave the question with them. If they do nothing more than hit the ball back, they’re putting themselves in position of having to listen to alternatives someone else develops.
      One last bit of advice to our fearless problem-solver: know when to fold ‘em. Don’t wreck yourself. If the summer event fails, it fails. It wasn’t your call, and it’s not your fault.