Clever Carly: Stand Firm in Negotiations

Playing nice? Research shows kindness can come with a cost in deliberations

Hello, dear planners!

Working with vendors, clients and other meeting partners often necessitates a certain degree of negotiation. For planners hoping to kill them with kindness, there’s bad news: Niceness tends to backfire during negotiations, according to new research from Harvard.

That’s right: Those sweet pleasantries you drop in conversation to sway event partners your way are, in fact, not doing you any favors. The study showed that warm and friendly negotiators ended up paying 15 percent more for the same item as their firm negotiating counterparts. Additionally, buyers who interacted with friendlier negotiators perceived them to be low in dominance and thought they could extract larger concessions from them. 

The takeaway: It’s time to put your foot down. 

But tossing niceness out the window doesn’t mean you can be a jerk, either. You get more bees with honey than vinegar, as they say. The trick is to use what I like to call “polite firmness”—a cordial-yet-resolute style of speaking that gets your point across without crossing any lines. 

The three main components of polite firmness are as follows:

Being direct.

No need to tiptoe around what you want: Ask for it directly. Just as friendliness can rank low on the dominance scale, shying over a subject can also seem meek, not to mention muddle the conversation and cause confusion. To make sure all parties are aligned on the ask, be clear and forthcoming with your event vision and what vendors will need to do to make that happen. 

Listening carefully.

The person on the other end of the negotiation will want to feel like they’ve walked away from the conversation victorious, not snubbed. So after you’ve said your piece, sit back and listen carefully to their counteroffer. It might be laughable, sure, but when you take the time to listen and not shrug them off, they’ll felt heard, which can go miles in continuing the conversation. 

Not making it about you.

Asking for what you want is important, but remember that events are not all about you. So after a vendor comes back with a rebuttal, which you’ve listened to carefully, think about how to reframe your counterargument in the context of other stakeholders. Clients and attendees have specific needs, too, after all. For example, let’s say you’re working with a vendor about using projection mapping technology in the venue. If you’re met with pushback, politely but firmly explain why the client wants to leverage the tech, how it will improve the attendee experience and why it’s important to the overall meeting purpose. Of course, don’t lie. If what you are arguing for isn’t a client demand, don’t say that. Be truthful but explanatory.  

Worried about standing up and being a tough negotiator? Prepare your pitch. Before the big conversation, take the time to sort through your thoughts and plan out what you’re going to say. Then, practice, practice, practice. It might feel silly looking in the mirror and talking to yourself, but the exercise will help smooth out every turn of phrase for a deliberate delivery come time to negotiate. 

Seeing yourself speak will also help identify the appropriate mannerisms and body language you should practice for such talks. For instance, if you find yourself speaking with a downcast gaze, raise your chin: Direct eye contact communicates confidence—and therefore will help you stand tall, both physically and mentally. 

As with any negotiation, polite firmness or not, it’s important to remember that you can’t—and won’t—always win. But hopefully these strategies set you up for your best possible chance. 

Until next time.

Negotiate well,
Clever Carly