The fine art of negotiation

When I reflect on my work career, past and present, I realize that negotiation wasn't one of my strong suits.


How stupid was I, for instance, not to ask for an extra week of vacation when I was a candidate for my last full-time gig? I was well-qualified for the position and was taking a slight pay cut from my previous job, so surely three weeks, instead of two, wouldn't have been an unreasonable request. But I was just so happy at the prospect of leaving the old job, and just, frankly, so chicken that I couldn't bring myself to request it. I didn't even bring it up. After taking that job and sticking around a while, I started to suspect that I was the ONLY chump in my department who had a measly two weeks. Sigh. 


Now that I'm a freelancer, I'm constantly picking up new work with new clients who ask me what I'd charge for the work they want. As no one has ever come back and said, "Sorry, that's too much," I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm routinely low-balling myself.


I think I'm just constitutionally unequipped for talking about money and benefits, and besides that I just haven't had a lot of education or practice at negotiating on my own behalf.


Until now.


Now I negotiate on a daily basis. With a toddler – the very toughest kind of boss. She wants to eat NO pieces of chicken at dinner, but I can persuade her to eat three. Five if I list dessert as incentive. She wants to read two books before her nap, but one's the rule and THAT'S FINAL. (Unless the first book is verrrrrry short, then maybe. I'm not made of stone, people!)


At-home negotiation comes so easily now I don't even have to use my whole brain for it. I can offer trade-offs and table counteroffers without even looking up from the newspaper in the morning. Sometimes I hear myself saying "no" and realize I didn't even really hear the question. Which is probably not an admirable trait, but I figure 90 percent of the time it would have been my final answer anyway.


If I ever rejoin the workforce (the workforce that actually works for a boss and sees other grownups on a daily basis, that is), maybe I'll suddenly be awesome at negotiating. Somehow I'll double the salary offer and come away with 10 weeks of vacation, at least half of which must be spent on the company yacht my new boss handed me keys to.


You learn all sorts of life skills from being a parent. And some of them will even translate into the work world. Unless your boss turns out to be a parent, too. Then I guess it'll take a staring contest to settle things. Go!