One of the simplest and yet most complicated principles of negotiation success is this: If you want something, you have to ask for it! It’s one of the simplest principles because it sounds pretty obvious. It’s one of the most complicated because few people actually do it. Put differently, most of us—myself included—want important things that we don’t request. And while that can sometimes represent a mark of maturity, we frequently fail to ask because we’re either embarrassed or erroneous in our belief that everyone else already knows our greatest hopes and desires.
So let me take this opportunity to be explicit: When you want something subjectively important, making life negotiable requires you to ask. And let me give you a simple and somewhat silly example from the last week that nevertheless makes the point.
I like to jog, and my jogging shoes recently developed the nasty habit of slicing and dicing my ankles. Badly needing a new pair as of 1/6/16, I turned the coupon drawer upside down in search of a DSW coupon. Despite the fact that DSW sends me coupons weekly, if not daily, I could only find two that had expired: $20 off (expiring 12/13/15) and $5 off (expiring 12/31/15). Though DSW’s full prices were not going to break me, I could already feel the onset of cognitive dissonance from an ill-timed, full-price purchase. My psychological health required a discount, but I had no current coupon to support one.
Now, most people in this situation would feel embarrassed to ask for a discount because they don’t really deserve one—and I have to admit that I felt a few pangs as well. But thinking that this was an apt topic for a future post, I decided to request one anyway. And I did so in a specific way: It was 10 am; I decided to go right away before they could receive any other annoying requests. Upon entry, I sought out someone with apparent managerial authorities, immediately and before offering any indication of my acute need to buy. Putting the 12/31 coupon on top—to emphasize both its relative recency and its relative affordability—I greeted the manager politely yet sheepishly, admitting (honestly) that the holidays had somehow distracted me from my DSW coupons. Could she somehow find it in her heart to honor one of them?
“Just this once, I can honor the $5 coupon,” she said. “Great!” I thought. Yes, I could’ve greedily pushed for the $20 coupon. But I wasn’t in it for the money; I was making this request because it felt important to avoid the feeling of foolishness attending a coupon-less trip to DSW.
Now, this was admittedly not the world’s most consequential negotiation. No climate accords were reached nor denuclearization plans formalized. But it nicely illustrates the point that, if you have a specific hope, wish, or desire, you’d better make sure your counterpart finds out. Think about it: what DSW manager in her right mind would’ve greeted me at the front door and spontaneously offered a discount? It just doesn’t happen. When you want something, you have to ask.
So why don’t we do that? Sometimes, we think other people can read our mind. More often, though, it’s because we’re embarrassed to make a request, particularly if we don’t think it will be granted. And here I like to highlight the bottom line from this post: If you ask for it, you may not get it. But if you don’t ask for it, you almost certainly won’t get it.
So in the spirit of a more negotiable 2016, I would encourage you to be a little more open about your hopes, wishes, and desires. Worst case: you’re no worse than you were beforehand. Best case: you’re better.
Have you ever asked for what you want and been surprised by what you get?