The Problem of Negotiation

There are three crucial elements to any negotiation: information, time, and power. The more of each you have, the better you will be able to negotiate. However, a positive perception of yourself in the negotiating process and your ability to think and act quickly can compensate for any shortcomings in these areas.

Information is vital. You have to understand your client’s needs and position. At the beginning of the negotiation, find out what the client needs. Get all the specifics about the job, including what kind of material it is, how long it is, when it needs to be done, how it has to be delivered, and in what form it is to be delivered. Also try to assess how the client feels about the job. Can you offer any advice or suggestions concerning the job? Can you make the job easier for your client? If you can, do so, for this will strengthen your position by giving you more power.

The one piece of information you won’t have is what the client is willing to pay. Remember, always talk about money last. Get the information first. There’s no point in discussing your rates until you know you want and can do the job. Ask questions about the job. Use the tactic of "I’m sorry, but I don’t quite understand…" to get more information. Express interest but not conviction. If you appear desperate, the client may perceive that relative lack of power and seek to exploit it.

Time is very important in translator-client negotiations. Most negotiations will occur on the telephone. Telephone negotiations are faster, more competitive, involve greater risk, offer more possibilities for misunderstandings, and are much easier for the client to say "no" in. To minimize these risks and the resulting problems, listen carefully. Take notes on everything that is said. Offer to look at the material and then call the client back. The advantage in a telephone negotiation is usually with the caller, so calling back may put you in a stronger position.

A few important points involving time: Don’t rush yourself. Always remember that your client has a deadline. Don’t make snap decisions. Think slowly, carefully, and thoroughly about what you say and about what the client says. This avoids the errors and misunderstandings that often impede negotiations.

Power is very important in any negotiation. As a translator, you have the power to fulfill your client’s needs. The client’s power comes from the ability to give you work and the ability to find someone else. Don’t worry about that. The client has called you, meaning they are interested in having youdo the job. The only problem you will incur is justifying your price. First, make an offer. If they accept, you are finished. Get a written agreement and start the job.

If they refuse the initial offer and make a counter offer, you can accept it if you are satisfied. If you believe their counter offer is inadequate, you can use the power of precedent ("But this is what I charge all my clients"), the power of morality ("How can you expect anyone to work for such low rates?"), the power of knowledge ("I know I can do this job right and on time. That’s why my rates are worth it"), the power of expertise ("I have an MA from MIIS. This makes me worth what I’m asking"), or the power of attitude ("My rates are my rates."). You then move forward by making another offer or sticking to your original one.

The most important element of negotiations to remember is that you are working toward mutual satisfaction. You and the client both have needs to meet. You have to harmonize or reconcile these needs. Though your experiences and information (e.g.: about the market) may differ, you may be able to find common ground. Try to collaborate in a win-win approach that allows the client and you to stay within your limits but be satisfied at the same time.

When negotiating, never take the results personally. You are negotiating for yourself, but don’t let ego get in the way. As Santayana said, "ego is just lunacy on a leash." Always be willing to walk away. If the negotiations fail, galaxies will not explode and civilization will not collapse. A failed negotiation is better than one that leaves you or the client unsatisfied. You know each other’s terms and can negotiate for another job in the future, perhaps reaching an agreement then. You want relationships with your client. Negotiations are about building relationships. A client that comes back is the best kind of client. Negotiate well and both you and the client will be satisfied. Then do the job well and you will have repeat client.

The Process of Negotiation

1. Start with the problem. What do you want? What does the client want?
Try to understand your position and the client’s position
Don’t argue over the positions
Negotiations are about people, not positions

2. Separate the People from the Negotiation
You want to build a relationship with every client
Put yourself in the client’s shoes to understand his interests
Don’t deduce their intentions from your fears
Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said
Speak to be understood; speak about yourself, not about them

3. Focus on Interests
Reconcile interests to reach an agreement
Interests define the problem (opposed positions often cover shared interests)
Acknowledge their interests as part of the problem
Be concrete, but flexible; be hard on the problem, soft on the people

4. Insist on Objective Criteria
Use "industry standards" to determine price and delivery methods
Identify your other clients to give yourself power
Identify your credentials to give yourself power
Ask questions: how did the client arrive at the price?

5. Know Your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)
Your BATNA is your source of power (you can always walk away)
Consider the other side’s BATNA

6. Invent a Solution that Benefits You and the Client
Look for mutual gain
Broaden your opinion
Make their decision easy

Tips for Better Negotiations

One: Make a strong beginning
Never begin with a joke, an apology, or an expression of gratitude
Use pregnant pauses to get the client’s attention

Two: Stick to the Negotiations
Know what you want to say (use a crib sheet if necessary)
Speak clearly, with no background noise

Three: Use Simple Language
Be conversational
Use the active voice, fast language, and short words

Four: Be Firm
Make your pitch and wait for the client to respond
Move slowly but surely
Don’t sound hesitant or uncertain (keep a list of your rates at your desk)

Recommended Reading

Herb Cohen, You Can Negotiate Anything–How to Get What You Want, Lyle Stuart Inc. Secaucus, NJ, 1980

Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1981.

James C. Humes, The Sir Winston Method–The Five Secrets of Speaking the Language of Leadership, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991.


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