Recently, I happened to be involved in salary negotiations for a new job (yes, I’m moving on to a new company, folks!). Very concerned about the number of vacation days I got more than the salary itself, I found myself breathing heavy at the prospect of having to put my foot down to state what I wanted for my new position, despite the fact that I wanted it very badly, so that I would come into the new situation happy. To negotiate properly, part of you has to admit that though you want something badly, you’re going to have to put your foot down and not accept an offer you are unhappy with, even if it means giving up on the opportunity at hand. Fortunately for me, it did not come down to that–in fact, this particular company, right off the bat without me asking, was offering just the amount of vacation time I was going to push for, minus one day. I suppose a person really good at haggling would have pushed for that one day; I, however, just let it go as “close enough.”
The whole salary negotiation process caused me to reflect on how Americans, in general, are really not taught to haggle. Yet, in order to not get screwed, we have to haggle in many situations involving large ticket items–houses, cars, even job negiotiations (though with jobs the object is to bring the salary up rather than the cost of something down). Does anyone out there feel they are good at this? I know I suck completely. I dread the moment when I have to pull into a car dealership and try to negotiate a good price on a car. I feel like I’m somehow cheating the company by asking for something at a lower price. When I’m in salary negotiations for a new job, I always feel like I’m being a complete asshole. Am I really worth the price I’m asking for? Will I live up to such high expectations?
In the end, because I’m so tentative, I end up screwed. I know for a fact that in one of the prior jobs I held, I was getting paid about 20K less than coworkers in my department in similar positions with comparable experience. I did not find this out until I was leaving the job when a former manager informed me because he felt bad that I’d been working for them for peanuts and he was really powerless to improve the situation at that time. This knowledge helped me adjust myself up in the next job I held. But for all I know right now, I could still be selling myself short and never even know it.
I know I’ve been screwed with vehicles just because I was tired of trying to push the negotiations–in other words, I just gave in because I wanted the vehicle and I didn’t care anymore that I was getting gypted. I was tired of talking to the smarmy car sales guys and playing along in their little game of back-and-forth with the manager to get them to lower the price of the car at hundred dollar increments. At some point, you do need the car and you don’t have time to continue revisiting the uncomfortable situation. Again, people better at haggling and with less emotion involved would have done a better job, but it’s hard for me to separate my emotion from the situation and they know that. (I suck at poker too.)
I’ve been on the other end of negotiations, however, when selling a house. I’ve hardlined my price and got the amount I wanted for the property. Still, it was hard to hold out when I just wanted someone to take the property off my hands. The mortgage continues to demand payment while you’re trying to get the house sold, and sometimes you give in a little there because you just want to not worry about the extra property anymore.
In my international travels, I’ve learned that a lot of places in other countries expect you to haggle their prices down, and when you don’t, you’re paying way too much for an item. These people make a killing out of us stupid Americans who aren’t used to this style of purchasing. We take things at face value–the tag says $50 and we just hand over $50. It makes us uncomfortable to ask for less because we feel, on some level, we’re cheating the seller out of the worth of their product, forgetting that they’ve probably bolstered the price expecting you to talk them down.
I don’t know why we’ve become so “polite” in our shopping style. At one time in history, a system of bartering goods and services is what kept our economy going. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could call a company and negotiate your gas or cable or electricity price? I guess if there’s a competing company, you can do this in a way… For example, when Time Warner screws my cable modem connectivity over and then says they won’t send a technician out for two weeks (and then that technician fails to show twice), I could, if I were good at haggling, threaten to have my service disconnected for DSL. Of course, I’m far too polite for this, too worried about being “that asshole customer.” So, basically, I end up getting mowed over by high price and lack of customer service, allowing a band-aid to be applied because at least it’s working now.
I just wish I could be a good consumer without feeling guilty. Having also been on the receiving end of an angry customer’s blasts, I know all too well what support staff is thinking at the other side of the phone and I just can’t help but think of that whenever I’m in a haggling situation. People tell me that I need to look out for myself and my needs, and I agree. But I just can’t help feeling guilty when I try to push an issue, whether for my own standards of living (such as the case with salary) or an item I want or need to purchase…