I have been accused by my wife on occasion of negotiating too much – and she is right. Even though I enjoy the process immensely, sometimes I spend too much time and effort trying to get the absolute best deal when I might be better off just walking away or graciously accepting.
I was thus particularly interested in a recent Harvard Negotiation newsletter piece describing four situations when you should not negotiate (which originally appeared in the book Negotiation Genius, by Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman). Here they are, along with my thoughts on each.
1. Not worth your time.
Anyone who has ever hired a lawyer or paid someone an hourly rate understands that time is money.
In the negotiation world, time is also money and has a unique value to each individual. Everyone has a limited amount of time in life, so use it wisely. Ask yourself at the beginning of possible negotiations: is your preferred outcome (your goal) worth the likely time involved? If so, go for it. If not, don’t.
2. When your leverage is super weak.
The day after I graduated college I was driving from Wisconsin to Washington, DC when my car broke down in the middle of Ohio. After getting towed to the one car repair facility in the closest town, I was told I needed to replace my engine.
I was in a really tough spot. I was on crutches from knee surgery, had a job interview the next day in DC, and there was one cab in town that could get me to the airport 90 minutes away for the last flight that day to DC. And time was running out to make that flight.
Bottom line – my leverage was super weak as I really needed to get to DC that day, I had no good alternative to having them fix my car, and they knew I was desperate (they knew the cabbie).
So when I got an estimate to fix my car – while I asked for a discount by appealing to his sense of fairness as I figured it didn’t cost me anything to ask – I basically just accepted his offer.
Sometimes it’s better to just recognize your weak leverage and appeal to your counterpart’s sense of fairness.
3. When negotiating sends the wrong signal.
We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Sometimes the downside risk of negotiating is significant, the upside benefit of just accepting their offer is big, and it’s just not worth it to engage.
Perhaps your new boss asked you to finish a particularly interesting and important project over the weekend. Don’t ask for something extra because it’s the weekend, making you appear ungrateful.
Or perhaps your friend offered you some sports tickets at his cost, just hours before the game. You could probably get him to knock off some dollars off as he’s likely desperate, but doing so would appear cheap.
4. When negotiating is culturally inappropriate.
Do you know anyone who negotiates the price of food at large grocery stores? Probably not. It’s culturally inappropriate here.
When dealing with those from other cultures, find out whether and under what circumstances it is appropriate to negotiate. Sometimes their negotiation norms will be similar to ours. Other times you may put yourself in awkward and embarrassing situations.
Latz’s Lesson: Effective negotiation skills can help you get more in life – but life will also be better if you know when not to negotiate.
Published April 12, 2015 The Arizona Republic