Everyone's a shy negotiator. Some people are just better at hiding their fear. No one likes to be turned down, whether it's by the romantic interest of your dreams, or the job you really wanted. It's not easy to turn someone down either, like the potential employee you fear might not be the best fit for the corporate culture.
My clients have been both bold and hesitant negotiators. But whether they're an inventor moving a product to market, a lawyer having a dispute with his business partner, a professional looking for a new professional home or a hiring partner trying to land the best talent, no one wants to be rejected. That's the first thing the shy or hesitant negotiator must understand about her bargaining partner: Your counterpart is just as worried about letting an opportunity slip through his fingers as you are.
That's why we all sometimes need these three magic words: Is it negotiable?
I just got off the phone with a shy client reporting on the status of her new employment negotiation. I'd told her that if she found herself unable to counter, she should at least ask whether the offered compensation was negotiable. And that's precisely what she did.
When the hiring manager said "$200K," she asked "Is it negotiable?" That's a smart thing to do, because most hiring managers have more money in their pocket than they put on the table. If the prospective employee accepts it, the manager just scored one for the team. If not, he can pull a little of the excess out of his pocket.
One of the solid rules of negotiation is never to negotiate against yourself. In other words, wait for a counter before you suggest that you'll take less or pay more. I rarely see this happen with the one holding the bag of candy, so I was pretty delighted when I got this report.
He: We'd love you to come aboard and I've been authorized to offer you $200K.
She: Thanks. I'd love to join your shop. But could you tell me whether that number is negotiable?
He: I can make it $220K, but it would be difficult for me to go beyond that.
What he really means
He's got more than an additional $20K in his pocket, doesn't he? Otherwise, he wouldn't say it would be simply "difficult," but impossible, to go higher. He's also saying the company really, really wants her to come aboard. Otherwise, he would never have negotiated against himself. At a minimum, he would have asked a question like "What did you have in mind?" Instead, he pounced.
There's just about zero chance of being rejected by asking, "Is it negotiable?" The worst that will happen is the hiring partner will say "No, it's not." The best that can happen? You'll get a bump without having to even put a number on the table.
For women, who sometimes have a more difficult time "asking" than their male peers, "Is it negotiable?" gives permission to do what is outside their traditional gender role to do — ask for something for themselves. But when women know something is negotiable, they negotiate for themselves every bit as effectively as men do.
And that's important for all of us. Because a rising tide raises all ships and it's way past time to raise the salary-gap ship to sea level.