Negotiation Fail
March 29th, 2010

This post was supposed to be a victory lap. 

Instead I am here to tell you this story from quite a different perspective than I expected.

A little background…

GAP is a born negotiator.  He knows what he wants.  He knows how much ground he’s willing to cede.  He strategizes such conversations as he goes, always at least three steps ahead of his counterpart.  Whether it’s a sour customer service rep at a call center or an obstinate executive in a conference room, he is deft in his negotiations.  He is firm without being off-putting; friendly without being obsequious; and practical without being taken advantage of. 

I, on the other hand, am a rookie when it comes to negotiation.  And while I show moments of promise in my skills of verbal maneuvering, I lack the thirst for it that GAP has.  I’m inspired by what my husband can squeeze out of other people.  I wish I had more of it in me.  I think he wishes that too.

Slightly more than a year ago I traded in my single girl’s sedan for the new mom’s crossover SUV.  My zippy little Volvo that had served me so well since college graduation was facing mounting repairs and really no longer met my needs with two big dogs and a baby to tote around.  I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but when I found my new car I handled the negotiations on my own and with feigned confidence and I worked the dealer down to a surprisingly low final price.  It was such a high.  I felt strong and empowered and probably unreasonably proud of myself.  GAP was proud too. 

I hoped at the time that that experience would help me turn a corner.  I hoped that I would become a woman who doesn’t back down; doesn’t care what others think; doesn’t get bullied by policies or procedures.  I wanted to become a more powerful version of myself. 

Since then I’ve had moments of such empowerment.  But for the most part I’ve not found myself transformed.  I’m still more people pleaser than hard-nosed negotiator.

Which brings us back to this post.  Our vacuum cleaner has been intermittently on the fritz lately.  Because one rubber seal was compromised one time, the internal workings of the thing aren’t performing as they should and it’s been a headache.  The machine is out of warranty, but, because this has happened once before I know that if the manufacturer sends us one replacement part the problem will be solved.  Over the course of the past few weeks I’ve gone a few rounds with their customer service reps.  And this weekend was supposed to be the weekend that I really went to the mats – sat on hold as long as necessary; was polite but firm and insistent on their compliance with my needs; escalated to supervisors and managers until I was given what I wanted.

Here’s where the “fail” factors in:  I never even placed the call. 

I spent Saturday morning playing with IEP, and then cooking meals to deliver to two friends who are home with newborn babies.  I met up with my boys for an errand or two.  GAP and I napped on the couch in front of NCAA basketball.  I nibbled on chocolate cake.  I walked our dogs.  I piddled around online.  And, quite frankly, I had a really lovely day.  Sunday played out similarly.

I didn’t want to spend an hour of my weekend on the phone, listening to hold music and arguing with service agents over why they should cave to my requests.  It’s not fun for me.  And no matter how big a high I got from emerging victorious from my car purchase, I just don’t yearn for that rush in a way that makes me want to find a negotiating opportunity merely for the sake of winning.

When I mapped out this post it was all about standing my ground.  I envisioned my persistence and the resulting victory.  And subconsciously I hoped that slating a post for this very topic would serve as a catalyst to get me to do it.  Alas, not even public accountability got the phone to my ear. 

Eventually I’ll get fed up with the vacuum enough to place the call.  And I’ll sit on hold, plea my case, talk to supervisors and (hopefully!) get my way.  But in the meantime, in spite of all the bravado in my head, I’m here to tell you that this weekend I failed.  I had a challenge and I skirted it.  I had a goal in front of me and I didn’t even try.  Am I proud?  No.  Am I ashamed?  A little bit. 

This whole scenario has me thinking.  I feel like I let myself down.  But it’s not for the reasons I would have expected.  I’m not feeling defeated for not wanting to dig myself into a negotiation.  I realize that I don’t have to want it.  What I have to do is be willing to take on a negotiation when it’s necessary.  Right now, in this particular situation, it’s necessary, and I backed down.  And that’s what stings.

I suppose my little predicament here has a broader application.  It’s not just about a vacuum cleaner.  It’s about understanding a bit better how I want to interact with the world.  I thought I would be here telling you that picked a fight and won it.  Instead I am here telling you that I’m a woman who will fight when I have to, but avoid it when I can.  And as I think about it, I not so sure that isn’t the better place to be.

5 Responses to “Negotiation Fail”

  1. Anne Says:

    Well, I avoid negotiation at all costs, so of course I can relate. To me? It doesn’t seem like a failure at all. I guess I see it more as this–you had priorities for your weekend, and met them. You valued down time and family bonding more. Of course you’ll try when you have to…and I think that’s good enough.

  2. JBS Says:

    Anne is right on the money! Life is too short to spend one second of it on hold, especially a weekend. Yea for you! ! !

  3. Eva Says:

    Oh Gale, so many thoughts here. You know about my love affair with my vacuum – and my despair when it recently broke down. Sometimes it’s the little things that end up being most stressful.

    These kind of chores are the most stressful (for me, anyway). The inconvenience, the potential for disagreement, the drama of asserting myself. Why is it that I strive so hard to be liked? I hate negotiating, debating, disagreement. (At one of my former jobs, the performance review rated ability to “manage conflict” – which I fail miserably at. I AVOID conflict!)

    I love that you were willing to throw the outline in the trash, and allow this post to go where it wanted to. Taking a detour from the outline – in life, as in writing – can be so powerful. And showing up that detour makes the post even more meaningful!

  4. D Says:

    Isn’t there an obvious solution here? Make GAP do this! In fact, I’ll do it, this is what I’m built for, and like GAP, I enjoy this type of thing (not like ice cream, mind you, but certainly more than you.) Seriously, why not delegate this to your husband, with your car, you already proved to yourself that you are more than capable of getting what you want out of people, you just prefer not to engage in the process. I think if you learned a little more about who you are as a result of your avoidance this weekend, great. But practically speaking, why torture yourself for a self revelation that you probably already knew. Not that I didn’t enjoy your post, I did, truly. Now get GAP on this, that vacuum isn’t going to repair itself :) !

  5. Gale Says:

    Thanks, D. Actually, GAP has volunteered to take the reins on this. But there’s a part of me that feels like I need to do it myself. I don’t know what I’m trying to prove, but I’m reluctant to give up.