Why Does the Word “Negotiation” Come with Baggage?
Why Does the Word “Negotiation” Come with Baggage?
A lot of baggage exists in the word negotiation. Why does it conjure negativity, tension, and frustration? How do you overcome that? Jean Reyt—assistant professor of organizational behavior at McGill University—returns to share some great advice in this episode of Negotiations Ninja.
Mark: Welcome to the Negotiations Ninja podcast, where we develop and deliver the most engaging negotiation content and training in the world. We host negotiation experts, business people and entrepreneurs and discuss what works, what doesn't work and how we can improve our negotiation skills. Hello, Negotiations Ninja listeners. We've got J. N. Reyt back on the show today to talk all about the baggage that exists in the word negotiation. It just seems to conjure up negativity and tension and frustration. How do we get over that? How do we get over the fact that this comes with a bit of baggage and we got to learn how to deal with that. J. N. Reyt has some great advice for us in today's conversation. Hello, good sir. How are you?
J.N. Reyt: I'm doing great. How about you?
Mark: I'm fantastic. Round two. Can you believe it?
J.N. Reyt: I know. It's so exciting.
Mark: I'm excited to have you on, man, but there may be a few listeners who don't know who you are yet so maybe you could tell them who you are and what you do.
J.N. Reyt: Sure. My name is J. N. Reyt. I am an assistant professor of management at McGill University and I mostly teach negotiation classes so we had last time a conversation about negotiation in academia and how it relates to negotiation.
Mark: Yes. And today we're going to have a conversation all around, maybe a bit of a ethereal topic, so to speak, but more around the conversation that there is a little bit of baggage that comes with the word negotiation and there's some fear that people have around it. Let's dive into the conversation. You get the opportunity as someone who sort of speaks at academia, as well as people who speak to the media and also to maybe heads of state and people in government, you get the chance to chat with a lot of different people. And there seems to be a bit of baggage that exists with the word, just the word negotiation, because it almost feels like it pulls up some sense of conflict or ideas that there's going to be tension or frustration. Do you get that feeling as well?
J.N. Reyt: Yeah. I really do get that feeling and it's funny because there is some research showing that people feel that negotiation makes them feel dirty and it's the same thing as networking. Everybody agrees, that being a good networker is important. Nobody disagrees with that. Nobody wants to do it. I think if you look at something that people objectively know is a desirable behavior, which is negotiating for example, a job offer, everybody agrees it's preferable to negotiate. I've never seen anybody say" No, never." It's just they don't want to do it. And so I think it really shows how much they dislike negotiation that is something so desirable yet they avoid it anyway. It's really something that's pretty strong among people. And it's something you see as well among people who are older and experienced. What's tricky about it is it's a silent affliction. People don't say it. Nobody says," Oh, I'm a terrible negotiator. I fold right away." Nobody says that. And so I think all of these behaviors, that we do when we negotiate, where we comply or we avoid or all that kind of stuff, it's a little bit easier for us to behave that way because nobody else sees it and we don't even have to talk to anyone about it. If you avoid a negotiation for example, then it's just going to be you knowing about it. Nobody else will know. And so you can really have this behavior where it's easy not to do it. And it's easy to say," Oh, it's fine. I'm just not going to do that." Because nobody is going to be saying," Hey, how much did you get in terms of salary?"
Mark: Yeah, that's taboo.
J.N. Reyt: Because that's not even discussed. Yeah, exactly. Nobody discusses it. And so definitely there is this thing that I think makes it very easy for people to just comply or avoid, which is say," Well, nobody will know anyway so I'm just going to sign the contract and call it a day. But I think there is always also this other one, which is, so I work a lot on language and how words can make people behave a certain way. If you really think about it, language is probably the most powerful tool you can have to motivate people and to have them do what you want them to do. And I've always believed that if you want to ask someone to do something, there is a combination of words that exists that you can find and that will help you reach your goal. And so I think it's always very important to see kind of the words that people are associating with what they're doing. And I think the word negotiation is problematic anyway, because people don't know what it means. It's this abstract word and so God knows what comes to mind when people just think about the word negotiation. But I think if they think about job offer and negotiation, if they think about complex negotiations or difficult conversations, why would you do it? Why would you want to get close to that? There's no point. I think there is definitely, I think some of that going on as well.
Mark: Why do you suppose that it makes people feel dirty? And I have a couple of ideas myself but I'd like to get your opinion on why you think it makes people feel kind of icky.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah, I think so it's interesting because I have a lot of students who always tell me this rationale that they have. And I think this is based on that. And to me, it's fascinating because it's not at all how organizations work but students hope that this is how organizations work. I have so many students who tell me," You know what? I'm not going to negotiate. What I'm going to do is I'm going to do a great work and a year from now they're going to give it to me on their own. I don't even have to ask for it." I hear that so many times. And I can tell you because I've been doing this for a few years at McGill and so I have people a year after who show up and say," I never got it. I never got like any increase and I'm pissed." I think we can come up with ways of making ourselves feel better about it and you're going to be thinking, well, I'm not avoiding the negotiation. I'm helping doing things that are the good things. And then a year from now, they're going to do it on their own. It doesn't work because money, it's rare, it's a finite resource. It's not like compliments or something. It means you give it to the people who ask for it. You don't give it to the people who don't ask for it. That's really something that I see a lot. This is usually when I have to crush any hope that this is going to happen and tell them, you have no idea. This is not. If they're not even giving it to you right now, when you have leverage, what do you think? They're not going to give it to you when you don't.
Mark: I think that there's a fundamental lack of understanding of leverage. Also there's this, everyone talks about the power of reciprocity and influence but the thing that I have to consistently remind people of is that's good in your general relationships but in the business world, don't expect anyone to give you anything unless you ask for it. It's just never going to happen. No one's just going to all of a sudden decide, you know what? You do deserve an extra 20%. It just doesn't happen.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah, you never asked for it.
Mark: Right, you didn't ask for it. Exactly.
J.N. Reyt: No, because the manager is not going to think what you're doing is exceptional. He's just going to think what you're doing is you're doing your job. People get okay very quickly with getting a favorable outcome. They don't think they owe something in return. If you give me an employee that's going to be performing great, I'm not going to naturally connect it to saying," I need to increase their salary," if they don't ask for it. I'm just going to think it's a great deal. I'm this employee that's working a lot. But so there is like this idea of they feel dirty, it's this taboo about asking for something and also asserting a boundary because if you comply, there is no way the conversation can go south. There is no way things can be bad.
Mark: Yeah, so they're viewing it as a risk mitigation strategy, but it's not really.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah. Here's something that I hear all the time. It's students, here's what students really don't want. They apply for a job and then they're basically told to sign the contract, whatever. And so they're saying," I want to like negotiate." What do you think is the main answer they get in return? It's always something around, you're not that hot. It's always, you're not that hot, you're not that guy, shut up and sign up. You're just out of the school. And nobody wants to be told that. And I think it's just a conversation people don't want to have but at the end of the day, you have to assert a boundary. And so if you say," Well, I want to be paid more than this." Well, there is a chance that they just walk away. And they just say,"You know what? We thought about it and we're not going to do it." And so I think that's something that I hear all the time, which is they're going to rescind the offer and it's always based on low self esteem. It's always something like, they were confused into offering me a job and now if I don't sign it right away, there's already so many people who are better than me. It's always these things that they start saying and you're thinking, where did that come from? Where did that come from if you think that they got confused and so now you just said that.
Mark: You think a large multinational organization got confused about who they were going to hire?
J.N. Reyt: Yeah. But it's interesting because to me, it really speaks about this illusion that a lot of people have that these big businesses are somehow, I don't know, giving you a hand or helping you or they're I don't know.
Mark: No, they're in it for them.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah, it's not a charity.
Mark: Yeah, it's not a charity.
J.N. Reyt: No. The reason they're selecting people is because when you go into audit the first few years, you create so much money for your partner because all of the hours are built, hundreds of dollars an hour.
Mark: Yeah, and you're getting paid pennies.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah. And so it's not a charity, they're in it for the money and they're in it for the business. You have really this irrational fear of they're going to take the offer away.
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J.N. Reyt: Yeah, it's a very good point and I think it's related to the idea that people, when we think about negotiation, a lot of times it's a very abstract word and we don't really know what it involves. And so here's I think like the main problem, which is, if you ask people what a negotiation is, what does it take to be a successful negotiator? They're going to think about movies like The Firm or whatever, movies where they're negotiating very difficult negotiations, all that kind of stuff. And we always forget that 90% of a negotiation is just work you're going to do on your own at your own pace, which is you're going to determine first what you want. You don't need to have a difficult conversation about it. It's just something you're going to do yourself. And then you're going to determine which is so important because a lot of people forget about it. But if you ask something to someone, it has to be good for them as well. Meaning a lot of times we're thinking so many times I have students who come to me and they say," Oh, I have A-, it would really help me if I had an A. It would help me for my internship." I don't care. I really don't care. This is not fair. This is not a reasonable argument. If you want me to increase your salary or because your grade, it has to be based on reality. I think sometimes we think, oh, you just need to ask for it. It's true. You need to ask for it but you need also to explain why it matters to the other party because at the end of the day, we are going to have to convince them that it's the right thing to do. And so I think sometimes it's a bit tricky because we look at it from our perspective and we think, no, it makes a lot of sense. I'm worth more than this. But from their perspective.
Mark: You may not necessarily be because you haven't explained it to them yet.
J.N. Reyt: You didn't make your case. You have to make your case and explain. This is why we were saying last time, I think if you accept that 80% or 90% of your success is going to depend on how you prepare and what you've decided to ask for and then what you're going to answer if they're refusing to give it to you, what do you have as an argument to make your case? Then I think, it's scary because then it means you're kind of drawing a line in the sand and you're saying," This is what I'm into and this is what I'm not into." And so it means you never know, you never really know what could happen. But I think a lot of times we're just very worried for the wrong reasons. I think the idea of losing the job offer, it's something I've never seen happen in real life. I've heard people talk about people for whom it happened. But in reality, if you really spent 80% of your time preparing the words you're going to use, preparing how you're going to say it there is no reason you would lose the job. You just made a request, you argued for it and then you accept the outcome. I think there's really no reason to be worried but I think here it's something that's also the outcome. I think of HR working on their own and this is really, that's something I was talking last time to a CEO who was trying to put together some sort of a hybrid work for their employees. And he was telling me," Okay, so what I do is I basically have my VP HR do it." And it was saying,"No, you can't because the VP HR, all they're seeing is their HR stuff. They're not seeing the rest of the stuff." And I can tell you just on the negotiation perspective, it makes a lot of sense to make candidates feel bad about themselves or feel threatened or feel like maybe they're going to lose the offer.
Mark: Well of course. It's a conditioning strategy.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah, of course. Look, at the end of the day, I show up to work every day and I have to have these people sign and also all these companies, by the way, they have such a high turnover rate. It's unbelievable. It's above 30% so they're hiring machines. They keep hiring and hiring. All of these HR people, they have a very strong incentive to discourage people from negotiating so that they can just get in the program and that's it. The problem is they just never see the negative effects. They never get to see them because once the person has signed their contract, you never see them again. They just go into their division and that's it. And so I think something that I tell managers, I know sometimes you think it's a good idea to do it but in the end, you're not winning, nobody's winning. You screwed over someone or they feel they got screwed over. They're not happy with you and that's what you get. That's what you get.
Mark: Yeah, the downside effect of that is that they feel like they've been cheated and then the work that they produce as a result of that is subpar and then you fire them anyway because you're like," Hey, you weren't worth it." Your work has been, what is that the result of?
J.N. Reyt: Or they quit and they never tell you why and you'll never know.
Mark: That's right.
J.N. Reyt: And I think we're thinking too much about consequences and what could be the consequences and we're so worried about potential consequences but screw consequences. Just if you want something you ask for it and of course everything in life can have consequences. Absolutely everything. But the things that are worth it, it's worth taking a risk for it.
Mark: Yeah, and I think people think that risk is binary though. They think that it's they're either going to get it or they're not going to get it but if risk was binary would never cross the street. Because there's a risk of getting hit by a car. What a lot of students and people in general don't think about whenever they're going into a job or whenever they're negotiating is yes, there's a risk you could lose this deal but what's the probability of that happening? You're not thinking about the probability of the risk occurring. And if you think that they're already negotiating with you, then the probability of losing that deal is so low that it's almost not even worth considering.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah. And I think it's interesting also, if you ask for it, you're going to feel so much better than if you don't. It's interesting because it's something, I don't know. I think everybody relates to it differently, but I have long hair and I've had long hair for 10 years or something, more than that, I don't know. And so when I was in the job market to get into McGill, McGill had invited me. There were a lot of people who were telling me," J. N., maybe it's time to cut the hair. It's time to cut the hair. You have this opportunity, what the hell are you doing?" And I was telling them, it was like," I'm not doing that. I'm just not doing it." And they were like," Wow, really?" I remember, I don't want to say who that is because it's always good intentions.
Mark: Yeah, people want to help you.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah, they always want to help but I was thinking, I'm certainly not going to cut my hair for you. This is not going to happen. But I think at the end of the day, you're not trying to screw over an employer or to confuse them into hiring you. This is not what you're doing. You're not trying to trick someone into believing you're better than you actually are. What you have to do is you just have to be who you are. And so if you want something, you ask for it, you make a case for it, you listen to the answer and that's it. There's nothing more. And so a big part of the issue is so the 80% is preparation. A lot of times people who tell me," How am I supposed to know how much I'm going to ask for to this company?" And I always say," If you don't, it's a big problem. This is your value on the job market. You need to know. You need to know what your worth is in the job market."
Mark: Yeah, if you haven't done the research, then how could you?
J.N. Reyt: Yeah, of course. And so, and then they're like,"Well, it's not written anywhere." And you're like," Of course not." And it's guesstimation. You go in there, you ask friends, you ask people from your alumni network and you try to guesstimate some sort of a number. But so it's just all of these things are so simple. It's not complicated at all. There's nothing in there that any person with half a brain couldn't do. But for some reason we devolve into useless children when it's a matter of standing your ground or it's a matter of saying like," Hey, this is not what I want." But I think if you're listening to this and you're wondering, how am I supposed to do it? I think the answer that I always have is at some point in your life, you're going to have to make a step. You're going to have to say," No." And you're going to have to say," This is not happening." Because if you don't, then there are people around you that are going to suffer because you didn't do it. You need to figure that out. You need to figure out why you can't say no, because at the end of the day, there's going to be a moment, you're not going to be able to say no and you're going to regret it.
Mark: There's a fantastic book that William Ury wrote called The Power of the Positive No and I really love it for these kinds of situations because when no comes with sort of the emotional baggage of rejection and everything like that, he takes people through this three step process of saying," Well, you're not actually saying no to the offer. What you're actually doing is saying yes to your own interests." Let's reframe how you think about it first. You're saying yes to your own interests and then when you're saying, no, you're not saying no to the entire offer. Maybe there's only a few pieces in the entire offer that don't necessarily meet your interests. Be specific about the things that you're saying no to because you're not saying no to the whole package. You may say," This works for me here. That works for me there but it's these couple of things that may not necessarily work." And then you're reframing it to say," Hey, I really love this stuff but let's try and work on these pieces to make this deal work for both of us." That's what you're really trying to do. And I think that if you're just saying, people come in and they think they're saying no to the whole thing and that's why they think that there's a risk of losing it. You're not saying no to the whole thing. First you're saying yes to your interest, then you're going in and being specific about what you need to adjust and then you're trying to move the deal forward.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah. And then I think also sometimes we don't know how to say something and just what you have to do is to say it. But a lot of times we're like," Oh, I don't know how to say it." It's not complicated. You can just say it. You can just say," I expected a higher salary for reason A, B, C." And you make your case. It's really interesting, so because it's this solitary thing that people do on their own. And you have no idea how stressful it is for them. I know when I meet, I have people who reach out to me because if I have someone in my direct environment that's going to go through like a job offer or something, I'm going to help them. I'm not going to just let them do it on their own. But it is so stressful for them. It is so, so stressful. And you're thinking, every time I'm amazed because I'm thinking, you're a great candidate. They made you an offer. There's no reason to be stressed. It's great. They're expecting you to negotiate.
Mark: They made you an offer.
J.N. Reyt: They didn't make you a final offer.
Mark: They want to work with you.
J.N. Reyt: And if you don't negotiate, I can tell you they're probably going to be a bit disappointed because here's the thing. Compliance is not a desirable trait in a human, it's just a desirable trait in a farm animal. That's it.
Mark: I love that.
J.N. Reyt: In a human, it's useless. It's not useful in a human to be compliant. Humans, you need to be collaborative. You need to be able to say," Hey, this is not working." And I know it sounds insane but the number of times I start a new class, students are always so confused by that. But I always tell them," You need to be assertive about what you want from this class because if you're not and you keep it in your head, then I'm not going to be able to know. I'm just not going to be able to know." And there was, I was saying that to a group of students and then they were that evening, I received an email saying," Hey, when you do the Zoom thing, can you do it full screen? Because we can't really read the slides very well." And I've been thinking, I've been doing this for a year. Nobody has been telling me anything. How am I supposed to know? On my screen it was working great. And so I was thinking, are you kidding me with this? Everybody for a year has been trying to see my slides and nobody has been telling me any of this?
Mark: That's classic.
J.N. Reyt: I think we're confronted with authority we tend to think that the go to response is to comply or to be submissive. But I think the reality is you can do that if you want, that's your decision. But I think a manager, a professor, a colleague, they're not expecting you to be compliant. They're expecting you to be smart, make good decisions. They expect you to be an adult not a scared little thing. And they expect you, if something is messed up, they expect you that you're going to be saying it. Because if you don't, they're never going to know. It's very tricky but I think here as well, it's fear of consequences.
Mark: What you said earlier really strikes a chord with me though, where you said there has to be a persuasion component to it as well. And this is not a new idea. Aristotle came up with the formation of this 2, 500 years ago. Logos, pathos and ethos. And if you don't have those components to your persuasive argument then it becomes increasingly challenging for anyone to make it. Something that I tell my employees all the time is," If there's some education that you want to take and it contributes to what you're doing, persuade me. Let me know, is this something that you want to do? I'll probably pay for it but you have to ask me and you have to persuade me. That's how this works." You've got to have logic, logos for all of those that are wondering what that actually means. You got to have logic, you got to have pathos, which is the emotional component of things. And you got to have ethos, which is ethical credibility but you've got to have credibility to be able to stand it up. If they're talking to you, you can already assume that you have the credibility to have the conversation. That's taken care of so now all you really have to do is take care of the logos and the pathos, that's it.
J.N. Reyt: Yeah. No, I really agree. And I think this idea that you had to persuade the other party, I really relate to it as well a lot. There is when you teach negotiation at universities, students always ask you,"Can I negotiate grades with you?" And at first, it's something, the trade that most negotiation professors do is they say," You can negotiate anything except with me. And you can't negotiate grades, you can't do any of that." But then I started thinking, why not? If negotiation is so useful, why am I telling them they can't negotiate with me? What I always say is,"You don't have to convince me first. If you convince me, then I'll do it. If you don't convince me, I won't do it." That's it. There's nothing more to it and I think sometimes we think, oh, I'm being greedy. I'm being greedy. I'm asking for more. Well, if what you're doing is asking for fairness, for a fair treatment, it's not greedy. It's fair treatment. It's that there is a market and people have a value in that market. If you want the company to match that value, you're not being greedy. You're just being realistic. Just saying," This is my value on the job market." But a lot of times, we don't do it because we're not quite sure what the value is or we're not quite sure. A lot of times you have people they tell you," Oh but what if they don't have the budget?"
Mark: They'll tell you.
J.N. Reyt: And you're like,"You don't know that." Yeah, they're going to tell you.
Mark: They'll tell you,"We don't have the budget."
J.N. Reyt: They'll let you know. They'll let you know. And by the way, this idea of, oh, we don't have the budget. I think it's always such a terrible response from HR when they say that because it's not fair. It doesn't matter. Whether you have the budget or not, people need to be paid like their fair price. But so I think you see it's something that people do on their own. It's something that's questioning a lot of central stuff, your self worth, all that kind of stuff. And it's also touching basically your livelihood so people are very nervous about messing that up.
Mark: Yeah. I agree with you, man. Listen, I think we basically turned this into a therapy session for a lot of people, which is fantastic. I feel like there should be therapy in negotiation. I feel like that's a large part of what we do on an ongoing basis. I am sure that there are going to be people who want to follow you and your work and everything that you've got going on. How do people do that?
J.N. Reyt: Sure. You can find me on LinkedIn. Jean-Nicolas Reyt or you can find me on my website, R- E- Y- T. net. And I have a newsletter for negotiators.
Mark: Amazing. And for the listeners, just so that you know, we will link out to J. N.'s profiles as well as his website in the show notes. As always my friend, thank you so much for being here.
J.N. Reyt: Thank you so much.
Mark: It's a great conversation.
J.N. Reyt: It was great. I'll talk to you soon. Thank you.
Mark: Hey friends, thanks so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed it, please share it with friends and colleagues so that they can benefit from it as well. If you find Negotiations Ninja podcast worthy, please go onto iTunes and give us a cool rating with a nice review. We certainly appreciate every single one that we get because it helps us to understand who is listening, how they're listening and what it is they like. If there's something that you would like me to discuss around negotiation, influence or persuasion, give me a shout. You know how to reach me on social media or you can get me on my website, which is www. negotiations. ninja.