What I Learned from my Worst Negotiation
Practicing law involves a multitude of skills – including analysis, communication, and negotiation. One would think that these skills would transfer easily to my real life. For instance, I’ve negotiated a few settlements and thought I would be an excellent negotiator in real life. But it turns out negotiation is different when you’re doing it for yourself! Recently I had a lapse in negotiating judgment that left me feeling resentful. The silver lining is I actually learned how to negotiate for myself.
I Lowered My Standards
To combat the loneliness of remote working, I’ve taken up dogsitting. However, with so many people adopting dogs during the pandemic, fewer people dogsitting, and my own lack of pets, I was getting inundated with requests. To deter customers, I’ve kept increasing my rates up to, what I personally think, is an insane amount. And the high prices mean that my phone stopped blowing up.
Fast forward to Friday when my sister asked me if I could watch her friend’s dog. (Though I have explicitly told my friends and family that I don’t need more clients but I keep getting referrals – for dogsitting and legal issues). I told her I would only accept my usual rate and usual conditions. I assumed this would deter the friend, but for some reason my sister’s friend reached out to me.
And then mistakes were made. When the friend asked what it would cost – I felt embarrassed. I assumed it was too high, even though my sister had told her the rate. And even though I didn’t want to do this gig, I lowered my price to the price I charge my friends, even though this woman isn’t my friend. (I know this sounds rude that I charge friends, but again, I got tired of being inundated with requests.) I also offered to drop off and pick up the dog, because I was being nice.
What Went Wrong When I Didn’t Ask For What I Wanted
This was not a huge deal. It was one night of my life. And yet I felt so resentful because I knew I sold myself short. I can imagine undercutting myself for a job that I really wanted, to sweeten the deal. It’s surprising to me that I would undercut myself for a job I sincerely did not want. Though I didn’t want this job, it took up too much of my time, and I got paid less for it, I agreed to all of this. I would never have let this happen if I was at work. It got me thinking – why did I let this happen?
In my head I thought I owed it to my sister (even though in reality I’m sure she didn’t care). I felt bad for the client (but I don’t know that she couldn’t pay the higher rate.) I was looking out for everyone else in this situation except for the only person that I actually knew well – myself.
Why Did I Feel Embarrassed About Asking for my Rate?
I felt embarrassed for the rate I charge for dogsitting, which is bizarre. My daily rate for watching a dog is a small fraction of what I would bill PER HOUR as an attorney. But this isn’t a question of is dogsitting worth more important than legal help. It’s not a question of what is the correct rate or what the dog owner is willing to pay.
The only question that matters is, what did I want to get paid to do this job?
The worst thing that could have happened was that she could have turned me down. BUT I NEVER WANTED THIS JOB. And even if I had wanted the job, we could continue the negotiation. It doesn’t mean that the negotiation ends there. I’ve been a part of negotiation settlements and you should never offer something you don’t want to give (duh, didn’t need to go to law school for that).
It’s so embarrassing to think about it now. I lowered my rate because I was embarrassed to be turned down for a job that I didn’t need or want. And no wonder I felt resentful.
Why Did I Feel Compelled to Do More?
I offered to pick up the dog and drop her off because I wanted to be helpful. This is common for women to want to help out, to please people. Again, I didn’t want this job, and frankly, I’m not that nice a person. But I felt this compulsion to be liked. This has never happened before.
It seems even sillier because I’m a lawyer. Talk about a profession where you can’t expect to be liked. It would never occur to me to try to seem nicer in an adversarial setting. If anything, because I have such a resting smile face, I try to channel my inner bulldog.
But dogsitting is obviously a position of care – and I think this took out the feminine side in me. I didn’t want to appear to be too hard charging. I guess in dog metaphors, maybe I was trying to be an easy going golden retriever.
Conclusion – Don’t Be Embarrassed to Ask for What You Want
I strongly believe in underpromising and overdelivering. This is not advice about not doing more when given a project. This is about getting what you deserve.
The whole problem could have been avoided if I negotiated as if I was my own client. It can be easier to champion someone else rather than yourself. If a client had stated, I want $X, I would have tried my hardest to get $X. I never would have second guessed whether the client deserved $X. I certainly wouldn’t have obligated my client to do more than what was originally agreed upon. Had I treated myself like a client, I would have been more confident in asking for what I really wanted.
I’m glad that the incident was tiny in terms of money and time. It’s best to make these kinds of mistakes when little is on the line so when something big comes up, I’m more prepared.to ask for what I want. I am the only person who is going to stand up for myself. I might as well start now.