More than a decade has passed, and I could still kick myself.
I failed to negotiate for the first job I took after business school. Fear of what would happen if I pushed for more than what was offered got the best of me. That decision had far-reaching effects that negatively impacted my salary for the remainder of my corporate career.
Fast-forward to many years later. I strongly encouraged someone close to me to renegotiate the terms of an agreement they had struck with a partner. The current terms were not fair to them, and I was adamant that they get more for their effort.
Why did I have such a strong voice to advocate for someone else when I struggled to do it for myself?
Science says embracing this reality is the key to becoming a better negotiator.
Why changing who you're negotiating for improves your results
Instead of viewing your demands as asks for yourself, change your reference point to see it as acting on behalf of others.
When you act as an agent, advocating on behalf of someone else, you're able to view the situation more objectively. It moves the line of what you are willing to accept. You have less regard for the personal consequences that may come if you push harder than you normally would because you don't want to let down the people you are representing.
The data supports this to be true. In one study, senior executives were asked to negotiate salary compensation for a new person in an organization. The female executives negotiated a package 3% less than their male counterparts.
But when the women were told they were to play the role as mentor to the employee, they were able to negotiate packages that were 14% higher than their male peers.
In another study, participants were asked to negotiate terms of a job offer. One group was to negotiate as if the position was for themselves. The other group was to negotiate on behalf of a friend they had referred to the role.
When negotiating for themselves, the women in the study requested salaries nearly 17% lower than the men. But when they were the agent for a friend, they obtained equal results.
Even though this data highlights differences in outcomes between men and women, don't let that overshadow the main point.
In the research, when the subjects advocated for others, they always got equal or significantly better results than they did when representing their own interests.
The key question to discover what you are really fighting for
In his last speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. provided his theory on the parable of The Good Samaritan.
As a quick recap, there was a man lying beaten and dying in the road. All the people who were "supposed" to help him passed him by. But The Good Samaritan stopped, cleaned him up, and took care of him until he got back in good health.
Dr. King pondered that the reason why all the people who saw the man, but didn't help was because the question running through their minds was "what will happen to me if I stop and help?"
He went on to theorize that The Good Samaritan had a different perspective. Thus the question he pondered was,"what will happen to this man if I don't stop to help him?"
That change in perspective, from concern to what may happen to you if you dig in to get better outcomes, to what will happen to the people you're representing if you don't, changes your approach.
It raises the stakes.
Play out the scenario in your head. Ask yourself who will be impacted by the results of the negotiation. Then map out vividly what life will be like for them if you aren't able to get a good deal for them.
So if you have to negotiate terms and equity with your co-founder, think about the effect a bad deal will have on your family and everyone who is dependent upon what you earn.
If you have to hammer out an agreement for office space, consider your employees, and your customers, and how not getting the most favorable terms will impact your ability to serve them.
When it comes to getting optimal results from the negotiation, be like The Good Samaritan.
You can be a force to be reckoned with at the negotiation table
Your previous track record in this area is irrelevant if you approach it the right way.
The next time you sit down, advocate for the most favorable terms with the same fervor as a mother fighting for her sick child.
You've got nothing to lose. And everything to gain.
Go for it.