One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned since entering the business world is that everything is negotiable.
What do I mean by this? Well, think about the way that you have approached life thus far.
If you’re anything like me, you tended to take things at face value. If a class project in school had a rubric, you followed the rubric to get the “A”. If you went to get your hair trimmed or booked a hotel room, you paid the price listed.
Don’t get me wrong, rules and prices are there for a reason. We have to have structure to keep the wheels turning. And sometimes there is no better way or better price.
But one skill you can develop that can get you surprising results in many cases is making it a habit to question the first answer that you’re given and seek a more favorable one.
To illustrate what I mean, here are some things in the business world that may be negotiable if you’re willing to ask more questions:
1. Estimates or quotes
If you make purchases on behalf of your business unit, whether it’s supplies, services, merchandise, or something else, you are in a position to test the negotiability of the business world.
Purchases of goods are easy in this regard if you’re buying in bulk. Always ask for a discount if you’re buying in bulk, especially if you’re a repeat customer.
If you’re buying services, read the itemized estimates. Are all of the hours of work necessary? If you’re working with an outside vendor, are there discounted rates they can offer depending upon the length of the contract?
An example of what I’m talking about happened at work recently when I asked for an estimate from IT to program an auto-generated customer-facing email into one of our systems. The estimate to implement the automatic email came back way higher than I was expecting.
Fortunately, I learned the “everything is negotiable” rule from one of my mentors at work. I reached out to a trusted IT contact to probe further into the itemized estimates. We reviewed them.
It turned out that one whole category of itemized work wasn’t necessary to complete the project, which took the cost down significantly. There was an existing way to capture the data we needed, a workaround that eliminated the need for the solution they were going to program. It pays to ask questions!
As shown in my example above, it often helps to reach out to experts in some instances to get a second opinion. See if you really need an extra or upgraded service that they’re quoting you – or in my case, if you even need all of the base services.
You don’t have to negotiate the price of everything, but when it makes sense, such as for frequent purchases or relatively expensive services, it will benefit your business unit and in turn make you look good if you hunt for a lower price.
If you’re a young professional doing work a certain way because that was the way you observed it was done in your company, or because someone told you to do it that way, you may want to reconsider.
Examples of this can include reporting processes, work intake processes, the way presentations or communications are created, the way supplies or services are sourced, the way sales calls are made, and more.
A lot of business processes get grandfathered into current times because there was a reason way back when that served as the basis for the creation of that process, and it may no longer be relevant. But people continue to follow the process because they haven’t been told to do it any differently.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.
When you find yourself asking, “Why am I doing this?” or “Why am I doing this in this particular way?” and you can’t give yourself a satisfactory answer, ask some questions. Figure out why the process was created in the first place. Are the reasons why still relevant?
If not, or if there weren’t any good reasons in the first place, look for ways to improve or even eliminate the process. People in leadership positions always appreciate people who can find efficiencies.
There might even be processes that could be eradicated completely. A former colleague of mine who moved to a different company discovered this recently.
His whole company gathered for a monthly meeting for which they compiled an enormous Powerpoint deck each time. Apparently, no one was very fond of the process of creating the deck, and the meeting didn’t necessarily add value or result in any business decisions.
My former colleague dared to ask, “Why do we do this?” The answer was, essentially, because they had always done it. My colleague pointed out that by eliminating the meeting or communicating the important points in a different format, such as a monthly email, the company could save hours of productive time.
Another thing to keep in mind here when you’re looking to create or improve upon a process is that there are always at least three options for how to do something. One of the options might simply be “do nothing” – eliminate this process entirely – which could very well be the best course of action!
To come up with the best possible outcome, think through three options or more and weigh the benefits and consequences.
3. Work and work experiences
Just because you were given certain projects doesn’t mean you can’t propose other projects to work on.
And just because you work in a certain function doesn’t mean you can’t ask to learn more about or experience what the day-to-day is like for another business unit.
Let’s say you work in finance but you’re interested in sales . See if your manager or someone he or she knows can introduce you to a salesperson. Then ask if you can ride along on a sales call.
I too was interested in the sales side of my company. As a marketer in the insurance and financial services field, I wanted to know how things worked on the front end. When I told my manager, he was more than happy to connect me with one of our field sales offices.
An extremely helpful and knowledgeable salesperson planned a half-day of job shadowing for me, including setting up meetings with underwriters, product managers, and sales analytics whizzes. I got to meet some sales leaders in the process and learn way more about how the product I market is made, priced, and tracked.
Experiences like this can help you learn quickly about another unit and broaden your view of your company and the possibilities it holds.
You don’t have to limit yourself to one-off experiences like this, however. Sometimes there are opportunities to do work for another area of the business, especially if there are natural points of connection between that area of the business and yours.
Don’t be afraid to propose work projects to your boss that span functional units outside of your own. If there is legitimate work to be done and you can present a business case on why it should be done, oftentimes leaders across the units involved are more than happy to sponsor the work and consequently give you an opportunity to work on something new and broaden your horizons.
When you discover how to negotiate the business world, it can feel empowering. You can chart your own course and influence outcomes. And of course, this can spill over into your personal life as well.
Maybe there’s a “side hustle” that you’ve always wanted to start, but practical reasons have held you back: finances, lack of time to devote to it, lack of perceived skills to get it going, etc.
Are there alternatives? If you lack the money to invest in your side hustle and get it going, can you crowd-source? Cut out something discretionary each month and save over time? Get a small loan, if you have a clear business plan you can assemble?
If you think you lack the time, can you get up earlier to devote an hour to your side business? Can you go to a coffee shop for your lunch hour to work on it? Could you get a partner with whom you can divide the time?
There are always ways to make things happen if you’re willing to look a little beyond face value and realize, as Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek said, “reality is negotiable.”
This article was written by Libby Stagnaro. Be sure to check out Libby’s other powerful article: 5 Career Tips For Young Women.