I'm ashamed to say it, but we got absolutely spanked by the real estate agent who let us the flat where we're now living. He talked us into higher rent, a longer lease and dropping the six month break clause. During the process of leasing it, he would hurry us up one day and stall us the next. He'd even tell us dubious half-truths about the place and the landlord. We like the place enough, and might even renew the release, but I don't want to repeat that experience. Coming out with slightly less money and freedom is bad enough, but the process itself is slimy and humiliating.
It's not as if that was the first time I've walked away from a negotiation feeling like a sucker. Almost all of my previous tenancies and certain salary negotiations stand out as being terribly handled on my part.
I've always felt it's slightly unfair that two of the most important factors in my material happiness – how much I earn and where I live – are so strongly determined by something I'm just not very good at. In the Benign and Enlightened Suzerainty of Jonathania, your compensation and residence would be a function of your skill in some core, valuable profession, such as computer programming.
Since, alas, the world is not yet my demesne, I've been trying to level up in negotiation. For a long time, the most helpful thing I read was Valerie Aurora's HOWTO on salary negotiation, written for women, but useful enough for me. It helped me grok what I mentioned above, that I shouldn't use being a geek as an excuse for being naïve.
Then I picked up the Economist A-Z on negotiation. It's a really fun little read, and the ideal Father/Mother's day present for the middle-class classical liberal in your life who already has everything. The highlights are the articles on "zero sum" (negotiation isn't, which is why we haven't had the merchant caste hanged already) and "children" (who play dirty and are thus the best negotiators, but get their comeuppance during courtship).
But the most interesting and most recent book I've read on negotiation is Stuart Diamond's "Getting More". In it, Diamond asks us to stop thinking in terms of tactics and negotiating positions and to instead be crystal clear on our goals, understand where the other person is coming from and then help them meet our goals, mostly by framing your goals in a way that makes it easy for them to meet, by trading things of unequal value, and by holding them to their own standards.
The book is crammed with anecdotes. No matter how small a slice of this book you take, you will find a positive, upbeat story about how one of his students used these principles to "get more". If you had to drink a shot every time you came across one, they'd be wheeling in the stomach pump halfway through page two. By the end, you've been pummelled with so many that you've forgotten what the book is about.
The underlying principles do seem sound, and when I've spoken with people who've read "Crucial Confrontations", they say it very much matches the ideas in that book. I just wish that Diamond had put in more bullet point summaries or something to make the book seem more structured and less meandering.
The closest he gets to an actual schema is in his "Planning" section, which has something close to a diagram, but is really just a few lists arranged in a grid. I wish he flagged that and said "this is it, this is the first and last chance you'll have to see everything on one page".
There are a few times where his suggestions seem a touch unsavoury. When he talks about trading things of unequal value, he suggests "make emotional payments", which is a fancy way of saying that you should strive to be kind and well-mannered. And if there's a thing that I would be happy to buy for £100 and I negotiate the purchase for £80, then how exactly is that different from tricking the seller out of £20?
Sadly, that's all rather hypothetical. The one or two times I've tried to apply the ideas in the book, I've ended up happily and politely doing what I'm told.
I just hope that the next real estate agent I deal with throws in a lollipop.