It’s an almost universal truth that mixing friendship (or family) with business is a recipe for disaster. But more and more, our business communities are becoming social communities as well. You may be friends on Facebook, follow each other on Instagram, and chances are you’ll end up hanging out in real life at your next conference or mastermind group event. These relationships are vital to your business as an indie business owner or entrepreneur, cultivating connections, a support system and yes, even bringing in revenue. So cutting them off entirely just isn’t possible – but how do you manage to get the best of both worlds, especially when it comes time to negotiate with someone you’re also friends with?
1) Yes, you can negotiate
The very first thing you need to do when approaching a negotiation with a friend is be rock-solid in your belief that yes, you can negotiate. You may have an amazing collaboration going, and the work you do with your friend/counterpart feels like a great big passion project, but that doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice on what your business objectives and needs are. No need to feel icky or selfish for taking a business-like approach – your friend is in the same boat, and this is the best way for both of you to achieve your business goals.
Hint: Reframing the negotiation as a ‘discussion’ (both internally and when you approach your friend) is a great way to open you both up to engaging in the process. Friends have to have tough talks all the time – this one just happens to be about your business together.
2) Don’t be a robot
Having a very distinct personality in your friendship, and a separate one in your professional life can make it easier to avoid conflict between the two, but how you shift between them will be important. Don’t leave your counterpart/friend scratching their head trying to figure out what happened to the person they knew and why you’ve been replaced with a cold corporate robot if you usually have a very warm approach. I like to use the ‘hat’ idea – as in “Hey, I’m putting on my “business” hat for a minute” as a way to transition from friendly conversation to negotiation conversation modes. It serves as a great reminder for your counterpart that their brain should switch to business mode as well – and temporarily tuck away the personal or emotional filters.
Hint: Using a warmer, more personal approach in starting your discussions can be a good way to get off on the right foot. Chances are, both you and your counterpart will be a bit nervous – and this can help ease you both into the discussions. Work on developing a transition style that fits your personality (try the “hat”!) and voila – you’re in negotiation mode.
3) Respect boundaries
If you’re friends with someone outside the work setting you’ll likely know a thing or two about their personal life. This information may even be useful in making gains during the negotiations. But this doesn’t mean you should use it. Manipulating someone on a personal level to achieve a better result for you deal is just bad business, and bad manners. Same goes for respecting your own boundaries. I love Kendrick Shope’s idea of each of us having our own ‘guardrails’ when it comes to our approaches to sales, and I think that the same goes for negotiations. Don’t feel that you have to be aggressive if that’s not your style. And vice versa, don’t take a passive or soft approach if you’re naturally inclined to be bolder. Respect your style, even in negotiations with friends.
Hint: To avoid crossing boundaries during a negotiation, pay close attention to body language You may inadvertently start down a path that your counterpart is uncomfortable with – look out for them closing off by crossing their arms or perhaps even trying to distance themselves by moving back from the table slightly. They may not be comfortable calling you out on it – so self-monitoring will go a long way.
4) Call in the cavalry
If your negotiation isn’t going particularly well, or there’s a sticky situation or topic to be dealt with, some classic deflection can be the perfect thing to save both the deal and the friendship. Bring in a colleague to tackle a tough conversation, or look to involve a third party expert opinion to diffuse any tension. If you don’t have a team mate to help, take a look at your negotiation advisory team, and use their expertise as a buffer between yourself and the negotiation. “My lawyer reviewed and…” “I spoke with my accountant and…” “My amazing Negotiation Coach (that’s me!) recommended…” are all helpful ways to convey what your requirements for the deal are, without making it all about you. If your counterpart doesn’t like it – it’s the lawyer, the accountant or the Negotiation Coach that get the brunt of the blame, not you.
Hint: There’s no need to be ‘sneaky’ about this deflection. You may want to address any areas of potential conflict with your friend ahead of time and mutually agree to let other team members handle those portions. After all, honesty and transparency are key to maintaining both your personal and professional relationships.
There you have it – 4 ways for you to negotiate with a friend, without risking either the deal – or the friendship.
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