by Meg Myers Morgan, PhD, author of “Everything Is Negotiable: The 5 Tactics to Get What You Want in Life, Love, and Work“
When I first took my position as the leader of a graduate program within a flagship university, I launched what I lovingly called the “Take You to Lunch Tour.” During this period, I called up anyone and everyone in my network and said, “Hey, can I take you to lunch? I want to pick your brain.”
This was mostly an attempt to get some feedback from influential people about what advice they might have for me, how I could be successful in my new role, and any opportunities for collaboration that might be on the horizon.
Happily, most everyone agreed to my tour dates. But one person in my network, a very powerful woman within the community, wouldn’t respond to my request. Though she was emailing me about other matters, she wouldn’t acknowledge my offer for lunch. One day, she was at the university for another meeting and stopped by my office. She had a few business matters to discuss with me, but before she left, I said, “Hey, I’m still hoping to take you to lunch soon.”
She sighed heavily and smiled. “Meg, I’ll be happy to set up a meeting with you in my office, but I’m not interested in lunch with you.” I was taken aback. She continued: “It’s nothing personal, it’s just that at a certain point in my career, I got burned out on these lunch requests from young people like you wanting to use my time and take away my one free hour of the day.”
Five years later, I finally get it. Now, I get so many requests for coffees and lunches, I’ve grown as weary and resentful as that woman standing in my office telling me she wasn’t interested in sharing a meal. As she told me then, and I so clearly understand now, she had to negotiate better terms around her time. I now find that how I spend my time is one of my most important negotiations. So as you request the time and help of others in your own network — and as you have your own time and help requested — keep these three negotiating tips in mind.
1. Clarity is Kindness.
I had a woman reach out to me after a talk I had given to ask if she could take me to coffee — assuring me it would be her treat. Given that I had never met her, I probed further into why she wanted to meet. Eventually, a few emails in, she revealed she needed some public speaking tips for an upcoming talk she had to give. Once I knew that, I was able to send her a few resources and the name of a public speaking coach I knew well. This saved us both an hour and saved her $3.50 on coffee.
I’m not suggesting she was in the wrong for asking to meet over coffee, or that we should never connect with new people, but I am suggesting that being super clear on why you need someone’s time is the kindest thing you can do. Don’t hide your need behind a nicety like coffee or lunch. Being efficient with someone else’s time is the nicety.
2. It Takes as Long as You Allow.
No matter how long a meeting is, research shows that the most productivity happens in the last 25% of it. So if your meeting is an hour, you get the most done in the last 15 minutes. And if your meeting is five minutes long, the last minute and a half are where the magic happens. Point is, if you set an hour meeting, it will take an hour. If you set a 30-minute meeting, you will take that.
If you request a meeting with someone, and you are super clear on your need, propose a very short amount of time. Conversely, when people make requests for your time, renegotiate better terms if you need them. I’m the queen of saying, “I don’t have a full hour, but I can give you half of one.” And every single time we magically finish the meeting in 30-minutes. Time is the air that will expand to fill the accordion if you aren’t holding tight to the treble and the bass.
3. Reciprocity not Resentment.
I get asked to do a lot of stuff for free. Sometimes it’s just requests for coffees, sometimes for articles, and other times it’s to speak to a large group or company for free. Typically, when I would agree to these, I would become really resentful for how much time and energy I spent without getting anything in return. But then I realized it was my fault for agreeing, not their fault for asking. So the next speaking event I was asked to give for free I said, “I’ll happily do it, but you will need to buy a copy of my book for everyone in the audience.” At another speaking engagement, I requested a copy of the emails from the RSVP list. Point is, when someone makes a request of you, negotiate for what you need in return to feel good about the use of your time and energy. You are worth that.
And on the other side, those people you are making requests of are worth that, too. As with the woman in my network, I thought offering her lunch was the reciprocity, but the problem is, I decided that. I didn’t let her, the person whose time I was requesting, set the terms. I now know that not having to leave her office — me coming to her and making our meetings short — is really all she asks in return. A simple respect for her time.
Don’t stop reaching out to people in your network for help. That’s what a network is for, after all. Just be clear about what you need from them, ask for the need to be met in the most efficient way possible, and then ask what you can do to return the favor. And if they say you can take them to lunch or buy them coffee, then so be it.
Dr. Meg Myers Morgan is an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma and the director of graduate programs in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management on the OU-Tulsa campus and author of “Everything Is Negotiable“. She gave a TED Talk, “Negotiating for Your Life”, for TEDxOU in 2016. She speaks publicly about recruiting and retaining talent; negotiating in work and life; and developing women as leaders.