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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 2, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
How to Become An Expert Negotiator
The year was 1992. There was no E-mail. The Internet
existed, but browsers, which make surfing possible for non-techies,
did not. And, though it is now unimaginable, most business was conducted
without benefit of voice mail.
It was in this primitive era that
way into a telecommuting position, before the term "telecommute"
had entered the vernacular. Working in management and leadership development
for Merrill Lynch from a New Jersey office, Adams was about to move
to Aiken, South Carolina, where her husband,
scientist, had just accepted a job.
Using the first principle of negotiating, she plowed ahead under the
assumption that she had nothing to lose. If her managers said no,
she would lose a job she loved. If she didn’t ask for a telecommuting
arrangement, she would lose the job she loved. Negotiating, as is
often the case, was her only hope of getting what she wanted.
Adams needed to persuade no fewer than three levels of management
that the company would benefit from her off-site work. She prepared
diligently, putting in hours of library research, calling human resource
departments at other companies, and putting together a detailed cost/benefit
She asked the company to try the arrangement for three months, telling
them what she had told herself — they had nothing to lose. If
she had to resign, they would lose a dedicated, enthusiastic, effective
employee. If the telecommuting arrangement didn’t work, their loss
would be the same. Her expertise would stay with the company only
if she remained an effective contributor while working from her new
home in southern South Carolina.
Adams won, and spent the next six years as a telecommuter. On Thursday,
October 10, at 6 p.m. she speaks to the Central Jersey Women’s Network
at the Tinton Falls Holiday Inn on "You Can Negotiate Anything!"
Cost: $38. Call 908-281-9234. She also speaks on communications skills
at Princeton YWCA workshops on Wednesday, October 23, and Wednesday,
October 30, at 7:30 p.m. Call 609-497-2100.
Adams is not with Merrill Lynch anymore. Rather she is on her fourth
career. In mid-April, she founded the Adams Consulting Group, a home-based,
Princeton business specializing in team and group development (609-430-9971,
A Philadelphia native and Temple graduate, Adams began her professional
life as an accountant, a profession she quickly found to be a poor
match for her outgoing personality. She decided she wanted to get
into the restaurant business and, despite a total lack of experience,
negotiated her way in.
An upscale restaurant in Philadelphia agreed to take her on, provided
that she didn’t expect to start right out in management. She happily
agreed to do whatever needed to be done in exchange for learning the
business. After a stint there, she was recruited to manage a new restaurant,
Morgan’s Bistro, on the Main Line.
"It’s a vibrant world," she says of restaurants. "You
really feel alive." Working in a restaurant is your whole life,
she says, your work and your social group. "At the time, it was
great," she recalls. "But what made me not want to start my
own restaurant was the realization that if I wanted a family, I had
better start living a normal lifestyle."
Already enrolled in graduate school, Adams decided to focus on group
development, the field she found "the best part of the restaurant
business." Upon graduating, she landed a job with Scanticon (now
the Doral Forrestal), where she established a training department.
After a few years at Scanticon, and looking for a position with a
higher-profile company, she went to work for Merrill Lynch.
When she and her husband decided to move back from South Carolina
to Princeton, where he established Naplogic, an environmental consulting
business specializing in ground water contamination, she returned
to Merrill Lynch’s Plainsboro offices. The parents of two children,
a six-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter, each runs a business
out of their home.
Sharing household duties and child care, and having
offices so close together means negotiation skills are a part of Adams’s
daily life. She finds that many people think of negotiation only in
terms of asking for a raise or getting a car dealer to knock a couple
of thousand dollars off the price of an SUV. But, in fact, she says,
everyone negotiates every day. Here is how to do so effectively:
already?" Adams asks. "How do you do it?" Think about
it. Decisions on where to vacation, who will drive to the concert,
and where the office will celebrate the boss’s birthday all involve
negotiation. How do you achieve a satisfying result in those negotiations?
If you generally are satisfied with the outcome of negotiations such
as these, chances are you are a good negotiator. In higher stakes
situations "the same skills apply," says Adams.
question. What is the other person’s goal? is an equally important
question. "I can’t stomp you out," says Adams. "It has
to be a win/win." Each party wants something. Finding the area
where those wants overlap is the trick.
negotiating with her husband over, say, who will pick the kids up
on Thursday afternoon, she knows his position. She is largely aware
of his schedule and his deadlines. She knows which child care chores
he most enjoys — or doesn’t. "But when I am negotiating with
someone else," she says, "I need to absorb as much as I can."
She asks lots of questions to determine what the person on the other
side of a negotiation wants. "It’s like peeling an onion,"
she says. "Getting to the heart of what the other person wants."
In addition to yielding useful information, posing questions helps
to keep emotions in check, she observes.
for her job at Scanticon, Adams realized she was not going to get
the salary she wanted. So, she stepped back, thinking "what else
do I want?" She soon realized that more vacation and more flexibility
in the hours she worked were just as important to her as money.
Many companies, she says, have little trouble granting an extra week
off or allowing an employee to set his own hours, and these perks
can be worth more than their weight in paychecks.
In the end, Adams came away from her negotiations with Scanticon happy,
and the company was happy too. She says the employment terms she negotiated
allowed her to start work with enthusiasm, rather than a lingering
sense that she was not being paid what she was worth — a clear
win for both sides.
is just a part of an ongoing relationship, unless, Adams comments,
it’s over the purchase of an automobile. For while many people haggle
with any given used car salesman only once, nearly everyone has to
work with a boss, share a home with teen-age children, and visit in-laws
on a much more constant basis.
"Always think about the relationship," Adams advises. If initial
negotiations go well, "future negotiations will be easier and
Salutes New Jersey Survivors program, through which ShopRite and Yoplait
will donate $10,000 toward breast cancer research. The New Jersey
Survivors program is integrated with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer
Foundation New Jersey Race for the Cure on Saturday, October 20.
Roberta Obler, a local breast cancer survivor, is spokesperson for
Pick a Pumpkin promotion. Sovereign is selling paper pumpkins in its
branches throughout the Mercer County area. Customers may purchase
these pumpkins for $1 to $5 each.
Sovereign’s branches also are distributing March of Dimes pamphlets
to educate women of childbearing age about the importance of managing
stress in their lives, particularly during pregnancy, and recognizing
the signs of preterm labor.
Funds raised through Pick a Pumpkin support research and programs
to lower the incidence of low birth weight babies, increase access
to prenatal care, and prevent teen pregnancy. Other businesses interested
in participating in the program can call 609-655-7400 for more information.
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