Thursday, December 10, 2009

Learn to negotiate

I can't believe it has been a month since I've added a post. A lot has been going on. The most important being, of course, that I've accepted a job at Google starting in the new year. I am convinced that this is a good move that will make me much happier in the long run. I'll be doing a more interesting job with a new set of tools at a company filled with great people, what's not to like?

However the process has reminded me that we can all benefit from learning to negotiate. Now I'll be the first to say that I don't enjoy negotiating. I prefer to find ways to grow the pot rather than trying to take a bigger share of it. But a little reading and practice with negotiation can pay off very well.

A few years ago I asked a friend who was a very good negotiator what book on negotiation he would recommend. I do this kind of thing every so often with different areas, and I usually learn something from the books I'm directed to. He recommended Start With No. Reading this book has easily been worth tens of thousands of dollars to me already. Reduced to a nutshell, the idea is that progress in negotiation comes when you ask questions that the other person can reasonably say no to. And your results in negotiations will be better when you don't need to hear a yes.

A second book that I recently read on negotiation was Bargaining for Advantage. From a theoretical perspective this book is clearly the stronger of the two. If you wish to understand the process of negotiation, learn to recognize different negotiation situations, and negotiate regularly, this is clearly the book for you. It is clearly best in class, and will work for a wide variety of negotiation styles. However it seems to me that if you don't already come with a wealth of knowledge and experience on negotiation, you can easily read this book and find yourself saying, "That's interesting, but what do I do now?"

For me personally, a lifetime of avoiding negotiation (and therefore doing it badly when I had to) left me without any negotiation skills to speak of. So Start With No was the better starting book.

With that said, how did my last negotiation go? From my point of view, very well. My compensation is structured differently from my last job, but overall is similar. From what I've heard, people moving to Google usually wind up accepting a pay cut. Due to personal circumstances I honestly couldn't do that. Without having learned some basics of negotiation I am sure that I couldn't have done that. Heck, without what I've learned about negotiation I doubt that I would have been able to structure my resume to make it clear to potential employers how valuable I could be. And without that, I wouldn't have even had the job negotiation in the first place!

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