5 Times Trying to Negotiate Can Backfire


When it comes to negotiating, the worst that can happen is that they'll say no — right? Not necessarily. Read on for our roundup of instances when negotiating can actually backfire.

1. When Your Negotiation Lacks Specifics

Whatever you're negotiating — be it an upgrade on a vacation package, better working conditions, or a pay raise — be sure that your end goal isn't so abstract that it can't be measured. Say you're on the phone with customer service for a boutique hotel that double-booked the room you had been planning to stay in on an upcoming holiday. And there are no more left with the ocean view you had wanted. You've been wronged, however innocently, and now you've got leverage. But what do you hope to get out of it? You need to be able to clearly define your negotiation goals.

Telling customer service that you expect to be compensated for the error lacks specifics. Compensation might mean that the downgraded room you end up with comes with a bottle of champagne and free room service. It might mean a welcome drink in the lobby. It could be an upgrade to the honeymoon suite. Or a night on the house. If you don't specify what fair compensation means to you, you risk being disappointed. When negotiating, your ask should always be clear and measurable.

2. When You Set the Bar Too Low

Fear of failure is one of humankind's biggest self-imposed roadblocks. Sometimes, it haunts our negotiations. If we ask for what we think we can get rather than what we really want, we risk settling for the easier, less controversial negotiation. Setting goals we're confident we can obtain can be helpful. You should never negotiate for something that's downright outlandish.

But when we go in the other direction and set the bar too low, we don't give our dreams a fair shot. So don't make this rookie mistake. Instead, set goals that are slightly out of reach, but not so far out that you can't achieve them. This is good advice for life as well as negotiations.

3. When You're Smiling

A new study examines how the interpretation of facial expressions can impact the outcome of business negotiations. And it's nothing to smile at. "If you come to an agreement in a negotiation and you are really happy, it may not be a good idea to show how happy you are because it might lead the other person to think that you did better than they did," said Peter Carnevale, professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. "A smile at the wrong time can discourage cooperation."

4. When You're a Woman

Research shows that initiating negotiations when female can backfire. Sad, but true. A 2007 study found that employers are less likely to hire women who ask for raises. Why? Because go-getting women, in some instances, are perceived as demanding and lacking in team spirit. Even when a woman is successful in negotiating a pay raise, it can have negative impacts for her long-term earnings, namely due to the fact that some employers will begin to view her as aggressive, according to research published in 2011. But that doesn't mean women should be less keen on negotiating and demanding what they deserve. To the contrary, they should proactively seek the best terms possible.

Here's feminist businesswoman Sheryl Sandberg's take: Gender biases are rampant in the workplace, but don't give in to them, even if that means you risk taking on negative consequences. "Every woman I know, particularly the senior ones, has been called too aggressive at work," Sandberg said. "We know in gender blind studies that men are more aggressive in their offices than women. We know that. Yet we're busy telling all the women that they're too aggressive. That's the issue."

5. When You're Looking to Settle Your Credit Card Debt

Settling your credit card debt for less than what you owe is likely to hurt your credit score quite a bit. If your credit score is intact, you might want to think twice before opening up negotiations. If your credit card issuer agrees to close your account in exchange for a lump sum, your credit score wouldn't suffer. But that's not standard protocol. Common practice is for the issuer to report the number of days your account was delinquent as well as the fact that your debt was settled for less than the full amount.

When has negotiating backfired for you?

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