Negotiatiors, Like Flies, Prefer Honey to Vinegar

Welcome back to our continuing Wednesday series on negotiations.

Today we’re looking at one of my mother’s favorite sayings: “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

The phrase means exactly what it sounds like, and it applies not only to negotiation but to every part of an author’s career. Whether you’re just starting out or have “New York Times Bestselling Author” forever in front of your name, you’ll get farther in life if you treat other people with kindness.

Negotiation is no different.

After preparing your list of terms to negotiate, spend some time thinking about most polite way to make your points. By way of example:

Less Effective: “How dare you try to steal worldwide rights to my work in all forms and formats! Did you think I wouldn’t notice you trying to take advantage of me?”

More Effective: “I notice you tried to take worldwide rights to all forms and formats. I’m not giving you that. What about North American rights?”

Most Effective: “The contract specifies world rights, all forms and formats. Could you tell me about your plans for international distribution?”

Note that the “most effective” example phrases the issue as a question, not an objection. If the publisher has good plans for international distribution, you may be willing to grant the worldwide rights they seek. If the publisher has no plans (or none the representative can explain), it’s reasonable for you to counter with something like, “Since there are no plans for international distribution now, can we restrict the rights to North America? I’d like to keep the foreign rights available in case an opportunity arises.”

The keys are polite tone of voice and opening dialogue.

Hostility and declarative statements derail negotiations quickly. A friendly tone and an openness to discussion are effective – and often successful – negotiating tools.

Have you had an experience where tone (your own or someone else’s) impacted negotiations? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


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