Negotiating: Do You Want Lemons or Lemonade?

December 27, 2010

This time of year, there’s lots of negotiating going on. Children asking for better presents, employees negotiating raises and vacation days, and so on. Really, any interaction between two people (other than a simple exchange of facts) is a type of negotiation – from a simple discussion of what to have to dinner to the more complex negotiations of salary, benefits and bonuses involved in a new job offer. Understanding how these interactions work, and how to place yourself in the best possible position, will lead you to more successful outcomes in your own negotiations.

To enhance my own abilities, I attended a conference session entitled “Negotiating Between Parties with Unequal Power”, presented by Beverly A. Caley, JD, CMPP, of Caley-Reidenbach Consulting, LLP.  Part of the “High-Performance Freelancing” series, this session focused on individuals who have to negotiate with large organizations.

Probably the most useful take-home message from this session was that knowledge is power. The more prepared you are for a negotiation, and the better you understand the other side, and the better you will be able to respond to the their offers. By deciding ahead of time what you really need to get out the deal, what you want, and what would be nice to have, you can make sure that you get what is most important to you. You can also determine ahead of time what your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BANTA) is, so you know how hard you need to work to come to a successful agreement.

Performing due diligence, or doing background research on other party, you may be able to discern some of their needs, wants, and nice-to-haves. For example, if you know what salaries, bonuses and benefits have been offered to other recent hires at the same company, you will be in a much better position to negotiate your own starting package. (Online social networking sites such as LinkedIn can be a great source of names of recent hires at a particular company.)

A second great idea was that negotiations have a much better chance of success if everyone expects to arrive at a satisfactory agreement. When presented with an option that doesn’t match what you expected or wanted, keep a positive attitude, and answer “Yes, but….” instead of “No”, and telling the other party what you will need to make that proposal work. This small change keeps the negotiation moving forward, and keeps the participants focused on working out the details.

The classic negotiation story is of two chefs who are fighting over a single lemon, and finally to split it in half. Back in their own kitchens, one chef complains about the small amount of juice he can able to get from his half for lemonade, and the other complains about the small amount of rind she was able to get from her half for lemon pie. If they had each been clear about what they needed (juice vs. rind), they could each have had exactly what they wanted.

So next time you are negotiating with someone, take the time to really understand what you, and they, need. If their position doesn’t seem to make sense, put yourself in their shoes and see if you can identify any information gaps or other constraints that might be affecting their position. Hopefully with good preparation and clear communication, you can have both lemonade AND lemon pie.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

How to Really Prepare for a Virtual Career Fair

October 8, 2010

As chemists, we all like to experiment.  ACS is no different – they are doing a big experiment of their own.  November 2-3, 2010, ACS is hosting a Virtual Career Fair.  You will be able to attend webinars, interview via text or video chat, and network with professionals worldwide—all from the convenience of your own desktop.  This is a free ACS Careers event co-hosted by Informex and C&EN, and ACS membership is not required to participate.

I’ve written previously on how to prepare for a real-life career fair<>.  While a lot of that advice still holds for a virtual career fair, there are other factors to consider as well.

Before the Fair

To get the most out of the career fair, register now and post your resume so employers can search your information before the fair begins.

Once you are registered, browse the posted jobs.  Research which companies will be in attendance, and learn as much as you can about them.  You may be surprised where the opportunities are.  Browse the program and make notes of which webinar sessions you will attend, and add them to your calendar – making sure to take time zone differences into account.

Have clear idea of what you want in a new position –  the 1-2 sentences that describe what you really need.  You may use this as an objective on your resume, or may just use it when talking to people who ask “What are you looking for”?

Use the InterviewStream system (ACS members only) to practice answering interview questions.  This system uses your webcam to record you answering standard interview questions.  Not only can you watch yourself answering, but you can send a link to an ACS Career Consultant or a trusted friend, and get their constructive criticism on the recording as well.

Since the virtual career fair may involve live video chats, make sure you have a quiet, private place to conduct video interviews picked out ahead of time, so you’re not scrambling if an employer requests one.  Pay particular attention to things like proper camera angle, distracting or inappropriate backgrounds, your voice level, ambient noise, and so on.

If you’re not a fast typist, this might be a time to do a little practicing for live chat opportnities.  Experiment with different keyboard orientations or desk setups until you find the one that is most comfortable for you. And make sure to remove all texting-type abbreviations from your vocabulary for the duration of any interview, or other professional encounter.

At The Fair

Attend webinars in the auditorium, visit the networking lounge to chat with other attendees, and visit the exhibition floor and employer booths.

The first day of the fair will center on “Outlook for Chemical, Pharma and Biotech Industries”, while the second day will focus more generally on “Career Development.” Each day will begin at 9:00am EST with a keynote session, followed by four additional webinars during the day. From 9:00am EST to 6:00pm EST the event show floor will be open for candidates to visit employer’s booths, and the networking lounge will be open all day for informal chats as well as scheduled topic discussions.

What to Expect

If you are scheduled for a real interview, do much more research on the company.  Make sure to be on time (which means 10 minutes early), and allow for technical problems.  Have a backup plan for how you will connect if your primary system goes down, the power goes out, or other disaster occurs.


Make sure to send a thank you note to anyone you talked to, most likely by email within 48 hours of the conversation. Follow up with the company if you haven’t heard from them in 2-3 weeks, to let them know you’re still interested and find out the status of your application.

You can read more about it at ACS Goes Virtual, which includes images of the virtual environment.

The more prepared you are, the better you will be able to take advantage of this opportunity – and that’s not virtual.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).

Women Don’t Ask – Negotiation Strategies

December 10, 2007

You know a business idea has made the big-time when it appears in a Dilbert comic strip. In the 2007 October 17 strip a female employee complains that her male colleague has a second monitor, while she does not.  The boss responds by telling her that research shows men ask for more, so men get more, but she can complain if she wants.


Much of that research is cited in the book “Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation–and Positive Strategies for Change” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (Bantam Books, 2007).  This well- researched, highly readable volume is loaded with details of scientific studies on gender, negotiation, compensation, and much more.  It is balanced with anecdotes that personalize the issues and show how they play out in both corporate and personal interactions.


The research cited shows that women (in general) do not ask as often, don’t ask for as much, and settle for less.  Women expect life to be fair, are more likely to be satisfied with what they have, and expect others to notice and reward their accomplishments. Men are willing to ask for what they want and think they deserve, and will push harder to get it.  Men tend to treat negotiations as a competition, where they are trying to get the biggest piece of the pie for themselves.    Women tend to have a more collaborative approach, sharing information to find out what each side really wants, then finding ways to enlarge the pie so each can get what they need.


The final chapters talk about positive changes women and men can make to improve their negotiation skills.  Men and women can learn from each other’s styles, and use their own strengths to their best advantage.  Overall, a fascinating book with valuable insights. 


This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants.