As a self-employed writer, I have to regularly haggle with people I write for on the money front. I have to chase payments which are due but have not been made. I have to get those editors to talk about money who want me to write but are not ready to talk about money. And then I have to talk to publications I have been writing for a while if an increase in payment is due.
Talking about money doesn't come naturally to us Indians. We seem to believe that the other guy is out there to rip us and that attitude seeps into our conversations on money. Having said that, the one thing that I have realised is that it always makes sense to ask for more money than what one thinks one deserves.
This is primarily because in most cases, the individual one is dealing with tries to haggle and bring down the price. He also needs to have the feel of having got a good deal at the end of the day. Given this, it is important to quote a higher price than what one expects to make. (If that makes you feel that this is like buying vegetables in the market, it is more or less like that).
Of course, this is not true just about freelance writers trying to make a living. It applies to others as well. As Robert Cialdini writes in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, "Labour negotiators, for instance, often use the tactic of beginning with extreme demands that they do not actually expect to win but from which they can retreat in a series of seeming concessions designed to draw real concessions from the opposing side."
This is clearly visible in the way Indian trade unions negotiate with the government. Initially, they ask for something that the government is unlikely to grant. Then they get ready to compromise on that demand and in the end push the demands that they really wanted fulfilled. This helps them continue to be relevant to the workers that they represent. The government also ends up looking good by having not conceded to the initial demands of the trade unions.
A very good example of this is the way trade unions representing the Mumbai taximen negotiate with the Maharashtra government on the fare they can charge their customers. The initial demand is always for an extremely high fare and then they settle for a lower fare.
So, does that mean that larger the initial request, the more effective the procedure is? Or to put it differently in my case, the higher the initial price I ask for, the higher the money I am likely to make? Sadly, that is not the way things work usually.
As Cialdini writes, "Research conducted at Bar-Ilan University in Israel... shows that if the first set of demands is so extreme as to be seen as unreasonable, the tactic backfires. In such cases, the party who has made the extreme request is not seen to be bargaining in good faith. Any subsequent retreat from that wholly unrealistic initial position is not viewed as a genuine concession and thus is not reciprocated."
I learnt this the hard way, when I asked for a significantly higher price and lost out on a few writing assignments in the process. So, the way I work now when I need to negotiate on a price is to ask for 10-20 per cent more than what I think I deserve. After some haggling, in most cases, I end up getting the price I had wanted in the first place.
Hence, the point is that while asking for a price, one is "not so outlandish so as to be seen as illegitimate from the start". The other person needs to see it as a fair game. There has to be something in it for him as well.
In fact, the last sentence is the most important part of any successful negotiation. It is important for the party you are negotiating with to feel that there is something in it for him or her as well. One example of this is something I used to do while working in the newspaper business.
Newspapers have desk editors. Everything that is written goes through them before it is placed on the page. Some desk editors (the good ones) look at the overall feel of what has been written and then let it go, without making too many changes. Some others have the habit of chopping and changing a lot. At times, this kills the essence of what one is trying to say. But then unless they chop and change around, they don't feel they have worked at all.
When dealing with such editors, I used to make it a point to put in some irrelevant stuff into what I was writing. This was sure to be knocked off by the desk editor. In the process, he or she would feel that they had also contributed to what was written. Hence, the chances of the important stuff not being fiddled around with went up. Of course, this was not a perfect formula. But it largely worked.
Cialdini gives the example of television producers in the United States, resorting to the same trick. As he writes, "It seems that some of the most successful television producers, such as Grant Tinker and Gary Marshall, are masters of this art in their negotiations with network censors. In a candid interview with TV guide writer Dick Russel, both admitted to deliberately inserting lines into scripts that a censor's sure to axe" so that they could retreat to the lines that they really wanted included.
This is something that Indian film producers need to learn from, given the tendency of the current Indian censor chief, Pahlaj Nihalani, to cut out stuff he feels is improper.