My first big negotiation occurred during my first month as a Venture For America Fellow when I received a job offer in Birmingham, Alabama. Until then, I had never negotiated a contract and would have been intimidated to do so had it not been for the culture of encouragement and support in the VFA community. I received negotiation tips from my peers, and as a result was able not only to obtain a better deal for myself, but also for a colleague, whose contract was changed to add the same benefits that I had negotiated.
We received formal negotiation training from leading negotiation firm Scotwork at the halfway point of our Fellowship, prior to which we were surveyed about our negotiation styles and history. What struck me, after seeing how Scotwork’s global benchmarks compared to our surveyed performance, was how much we as a community had to learn.
We excel in lots of areas, such as recognizing the limits of over-aggressively arguing our own cases, which frequently is not a tactic that yields the best results. But there are other things we need to learn. For instance, we need to muster the confidence to make the first proposal in our negotiation. Otherwise we concede control of the negotiation to the other party, and with it, possibly, victory too.
The session, led by Millie Davis and Brian Buck, was a good opportunity to collectively accelerate that learning. We covered myths, played an exercise in pairs, and formed a mock advisory panel to help one of us negotiate a job offer – all while receiving tips along the way.
My most significant takeaway was the importance of preparing beforehand—walking into a negotiation with intended positions and limits and specific stances on issues, while still retaining flexibility. This crystallized for me that I don’t need to be this ideal type I had in my head – someone who is able to walk into any room confidently and wing the negotiation by sheer charisma – but rather that I need to prepare for and continue to train for the results I want.