Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I make an OK female basketball player

Max, Peter and John For our new Negotiations class, we were randomly assigned into groups of three to conduct a mock negotiation, and some groups were asked to videotape their meetings. Ours was one such group.

In the exercise, we were assigned roles. I was a basketball player (who the case describes as a female named Hoopster Hayden), and Peter (middle) was my agent. Max (left) was the general manager of a team, and, to make a long story short, the three of us were trying to agree upon one of five salary packages for me. (It is possible that some of our video could be shown in class, although I'm not convinced our negotiation was necessarily so exemplary.)

It was fun. I really enjoyed it. One issue I'm having with Negotiations in general, though, is that I don't gain any pleasure out of getting more than I think is fair; in fact, I actively don't like it. Some people would call this a problem -- "Oh, you could have negotiated for a higher salary," people will say, "or a better deal on such-and-such." Meh. I don't like to be bamboozled, obviously, but if I feel I can reasonably ascertain what's fair, then that's what I'd like to think I will argue for -- not what's best for me, if it's what's worst for the other guy.

For example, when I went from the Caller-Times to the Star-Telegram, and it came time to talk salary, I took what I was making at the Caller-Times, adjusted for the difference in cost of living (according to a Web site), and added 10%. And I presented that offer as exactly that: a calculation I thought was reasonable and fair. And that's what I got offered. Could I have gotten a better offer? I suppose, though probably not by much. And ultimately, I would rather just make an offer I think is fair and get it than feel like I'm pushing or tricking someone into giving me more money ... money that, really, amounts to peanuts in the grand scheme of things.

It's the same thing in this class. I understand that negotiation is an important skill, but I'm a real proponent of fairness, and of everyone feeling comfortable. Obviously not everyone always agrees on what's fair. But if we can agree that a solution is fair, then that's the solution that should be chosen.

In the exercise, that was my strategy. Beforehand, I did a few back-of-the-envelope calculations and determined which package was fairest for all three of us. Nobody disagreed with that. But, of course, the conversation didn't end there -- people want to push for what advantages them, even if they can't look you in the eye and deny your assessment of what's fair. And since I made my "fair" argument plainly from the beginning, I just stuck with it the whole time: "This is what's fair, period. If you don't agree it's fair, let's discuss that, but if you do agree it's fair, there's nothing else to say." I was unyielding, and in the end, we went with my original proposal.

Does that mean I "won"? Not at all -- in fact with some shrewdness and smarts I might have been able to argue for a better deal for myself. But I would rather go with what's equally best for everybody. Maybe that's not the head I need for business, but it's the head I was dealt.

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