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You First

Garage_sale Another aspect of finishing up my mother's business was the estate sale (translated: overglorified garage sale). My sister and I took it as an opportunity to also rid our respective homes of unwanted stuff, so it was quite the sale. The first day of the two-day event got some great traffic, and we pared down the belongings significantly.

On the second day, we decided to try an experiment: we removed all the price tags and allowed people to make offers. What surprised us was how many customers declined that to place an offer. They wanted us to throw out a number... THEN they were comfortable countering it with something else. A couple of times we had people surprise us and offer more than what the prior day's price tag listed. But that was a rarity.

As a project manager and a consultant, I see that quite often. People don't want to define; they want to edit. Throwing out the first offer takes leadership and audacity. Throwing out a counter-offer is easier. There's a target at which to shoot. Negotiation isn't always about contracts and dollars; it may be about resources and requirements.

Of course, going first has its demands as well. It means one has to at least entertain counter-offers tactfully. I once worked on a project where the lead BA was comfortable with defining the requirements (i.e., offer) but would never entertain counter-offers ("my way or the highway"). The IT lead was uncomfortable with both offers and counter-offers; the only request was "I need more" without telling the rest of us what "more" looked like or why it was needed. It made for difficult scope and schedule discussions.

My friend, Lisa Gates, specializes in negotiation. She coaches women everywhere how to negotiate more effectively. Her commentary about negotiation itself is very telling:

Just look at the word negotiation. It hangs in the air like a dirigible, just a bunch of hot air and bloated promises. It’s enough to make your stomach turn.

Why is that? Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever in their ground-breaking books Women Don’t Askand Ask For It, have unpacked the answer to that question withexhaustive research and numbing statistics. Like my business partner and I, they’ve developed courses and training opportunities for women to begin turning those numbers around.

But because just the word itself carries such a heavy negative load, women don’t perceive negotiation to be transformative. And even if they do learn the strategies and tactics of interest-based negotiation, they don't believe they'll use what they learn. Yet in our experience teaching women, once the fundamental skills of interest-based negotiation are learned, everything changes.

Regardless of your gender, if you're going to learn to "seize the accomplishment," you need to be comfortable with both aspects of negotiation: offering AND counter-offering. Knowing how to define the value of what's being negotiated is key. If you know what "it" is worth (whether "it" is a software contract, a resource, or project requirements), then you are better prepared to negotiate for what you want.

Me? Well, let's just say I'm cured of my desire to hold another garage sale ANYTIME in the foreseeable future.


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Lisa Gates

Wow! First of all, thank you for talking about me when I'm not paying attention :) and finding the "dirigible" quote. I had a great laugh seeing that in print again.

The interesting thing to me is our resistance to putting a number on the table. Yet research shows that those who do, "anchor" the negotiation, and that number (or idea or project) will influence the entire conversation until you reach agreement.

In my last yard sale I noticed the same thing, people squirming about naming a price. I noticed too that when they offered something far lower than I thought the item was worth that I felt "low balled" even though I was making up the rules. Even when I counter offered high, we usually ended up closer to the opening offer than the counter offer. I admit I'm kindofa pushover at yard sales. My bottom line is GET RID OF IT!!!

Thanks for the great post my friend!



Matt Sullivan

"many customers declined to place an offer"...what an interesting observation!

Possibly they like the thought of driving the price down better than having their price driven up.

Either way, it sounds like the price-free day at least broke up the monotony of of the garage sale process.


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