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WIIFT fail: A social exchange negotiation with an old partner that ended in a lose-lose

Hi everyone,

We have a WIIFT fail thread here already. But, it felt wrong to put this case study there when I feel that I may have been in the wrong on this one.

So, let's begin, and we'll find out together:

*Note: If the messages are too hard to read, to quickly zoom in on the image, hold the Ctrl key on your keyboard and press the plus sign (+). Then, to zoom out, press and hold your Ctrl key and press the minus sign (-)

L is a wonderful woman I worked with a while back on a fun project.

She invited me to do a guest speaking where I talk to a group of up-and-comers about my success as an actor, where I started, where I am now, and how I made it this far. It was fun to do except for when we got to the parts where I was to talk about my achievements—not a fan of talking about myself that way, it feels narcissistic and egotistical. Other than that, a complete and total blast.

She paid me very well for my time on stage and paid me further to help her out with signing in the guests at the door. It was a great time and a great experience.

So, when she says she has another project she'd like to collaborate on (in COVID no less), I get curious.

Not much to break down in this text convo, we set up a brief phone chat where she tells me she's looking for a video of me talking about an acting competition that I was apart of a couple of years back. She is apart of the company that hosted the competition and I ended up winning which helped to launch my career.

I let her know that I had actually already done a video testimonial in collaboration with M (if you don't know who M is, check out this post). And, that it's actually on their company Instagram right now.

She said she didn't know that and that she'd check it out, and then told me a little more about what she's looking for.

L: (begins talking more about the project)

Ali: (uses a Voss label) "It sounds like you're looking for more than a testimonial. It sounds like you're looking for promotion."

L: (long pause) "Well...ye..yeaa...".

At that very moment, I was on guard.

In my head, she had no reason to be tripping over her words unless she was worried she would have to provide major compensation in exchange for the promotion. And, I wasn't going to do that to her. I only wanted to know what exactly she's asking for so we can make sure this is a fair exchange.

So, I told her to take a look at the video and reach back out to me with her thoughts. After all, if it turned out that the video I had already done was sufficient, we wouldn't need to do this at all anyway.

Here was what ensued afterward:

I set expectations for a win-win exchange.

She responds by slightly social-credit erasing the value I bring to the table. Not a good start.

If you remember, this is one of the social exchange manipulations:

  • Credit erasing: Fabricate options & competitors ("I can get it anywhere")

So, I felt that something was off. And, when I took a minute to step back and analyze this, I wasn't happy to realize this is what had just happened.

Then, she lets me know that this could easily be a win-lose with me on the losing end after I just said that I expect a win-win. When I read this, it felt like she wasn't even listening.

So, I responded with the Yale negotiation technique: "the asymmetric risk principle".

And, how does she respond?

Here's what she does:

  • "Could you share a little more insight on your potential losses aside from the short time..." (Why are we setting that aside? Fairly compensating my time is the whole point)
  • "...the short time..." (This isn't about how "long" or "short" my time is, it's about what my time is worth)

She tries to control the scope away from compensating my time while also devaluing my time by refusing to acknowledge it as even being worth compensating.

Then, likely realizing what she did, she sends a high-effort follow-up text to clarify any misunderstandings from her first message (all without really backtracking).

So, instead of rejecting her or this singular offer, I reject the whole category by saying I'm not interested in any collaborations that are mini-competitions. And, that's where I could have worded it better:

Ali: "Thanks for the offer, L, and thanks for thinking of me. I'm not currently interested in doing any collaborations that require me to compete for a benefit

Ali: But, if you think of something else, you're welcome to let me know :)"

There. Two separate text messages so it doesn't look as high-effort (which was my main concern) and I'm able to emphasize the "but" more (by starting a new text with it) to negate the rejection and focus on the future collaborations.

I think apart of why my rejection of the whole category was so sloppy is because I also wanted to leave the door open on this collaboration:

  • "I'm not currently interested in competing for a benefit (= "If you can find a way to make this more of a win-win, I'm in)

And, she would know I'm in since in a previous text message I clearly said: "As long as it's a win-win, I'd be happy to shoot another one :)".

On top of that, I wanted to assess her character because I felt offended. M works in the same company and, to my knowledge, on the same level as L. Yet, M's always been really good at making our collaborations a win-win and even goes out of her way to credit-inflate the value I bring to the table which she doesn't have to do. So, why was L so adamant in negotiating for what she wants instead of for what we want?

Was I in the wrong here? Was I comparing L too much to M? Did I let my perception of my "value" get to my head?

What do you guys think? And, be brutally honest, I can take it 🙂

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood

The situation sounds a bit complex with a history that I may not fully understand.

I will give my interpretion based on the exchanges in this picture and the subsequent one.

Based on her responses, I think the words like win-win and potential losses may have confused her a little.
She may not be familiar with these terms, or rather she is not used to these terms.
She may think that you are trying to use jargon to confuse her.

Focusing purely on going "meta" here may not be a good choice.
Mixing this in with some counter-proposals and leading the conversation could help more.
More on leading the conversation towards how she would provide you with value.

Partially "meta" to hint about the challenges and value associated with filming a new video.
She may not be able to appreciate the value and effort behind the filming a video of 2-3 minutes.
And leading the conversation to move towards the opportunities that you are looking for.

For example,

Her: Sure! We are reaching out to a few contestants and we will be closing two videos. If your video gets selected, we will pay you $100.

You: I have done my fair share of contests in the past (been there, done that) and have always enjoyed the experience. (rapport building; raise her value; prevent the first part from sounding arrogant)
I am looking towards filming more industry-standard videos at the moment. (market yourself and set expectations)
I'm not sure if this is what you are looking for. (gives her the power to say no and let her clarify)

Thanks for the feedback, Matthew! And, great to speak with you in the forum again 🙂

Matthew: "The situation sounds a bit complex with a history that I may not fully understand."

The only history is that we worked together on another project in the past.

Matthew: "Based on her responses, I think the words like win-win and potential losses may have confused her a little."

I think that's possible but unlikely in this case.

It's more than her being sharp herself, but also that she's familiar with these terms from our current situation and my expectation-setting in the past.

Based on your feedback here, Matthew, what I think might have happened is that she felt I was using these terms out of place. She understood the terms, but couldn't see why I was using them in the negotiation of a deal this small. And, that could be what confused her.

Matthew: "Mixing this in with some counter-proposals and leading the conversation could help more. More on leading the conversation towards how she would provide you with value."

Yes, that could have helped if my primary goal was to make it a win-win. But, after she engaged in social credit-erasing and devalued my time, my primary goal became assessing her character. (I knew that I could get better collaborations and more value from working with M anyway as well as more respect and fairer treatment.)

So, I wanted to see what she was willing to do to make this a win-win, which meant giving her room to come up with more ways to add value instead of leading her to those ways myself.

Matthew: "She may not be able to appreciate the value and effort behind the filming a video of 2-3 minutes."

Exactly. And, that's where things fell apart in this negotiation.

I felt like she was treating me as one of her employees who, when given an order to shoot a video to prepare for the upcoming company competition, must comply. But, I'm outside of their organization and can do whatever I want with my time including growing my businesses, writing another book, and so on. My time is worth more than a possible $100 and $100 doesn't mean that much to me anyway.

That's the dynamic in terms of where I am now. Another way of looking at this is if it wasn't me at all:

If it were Brad Pitt or Denzel Washington you were asking for a video from, would the conversation still be about how long or short the video is or about how you can make this request worth their time?

Both of those men are high-value, high-status individuals, so their presence alone in the video is already more value than I would be offering (they would be providing celebrity-endorsing). Yet, the concept stays the same.

I'm not nearly that high-value yet and not nearly as low-value as some of the other contestants. So, that margin in between is where I bring more value to the table than the average person providing this video and where I'd prefer to be compensated for that margin that I worked my ass off for years to get to where I am.

This is also a promotional video that they're asking for. I wouldn't, in my right mind, give out free promotion for someone unless it was to show that I'm value-adding in order to make a new connection and build rapport. But, we're past that stage with L already, so I was hoping for treatment that's a bit fairer.

It's a case where I've worked to become independent and paid for my value instead of my time. And, she was trying to pay me for neither.

Do you agree or disagree, Matthew?

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood

Pleasure to speak with you again too :).

Ali: Based on your feedback here, Matthew, what I think might have happened is that she felt I was using these terms out of place. She understood the terms, but couldn't see why I was using them in the negotiation of a deal this small. And, that could be what confused her.

I do think so as well.
My thoughts are that focusing more on marketing your value would be better.
Terms like risk could seem defensive.
So sell more of your upside rather than risks for both parties.

I think highlighting risk is a good move.
But you don't have to mention the term risk itself.

You can say something like

Ali: Ah yes, a 2-3 minute video requires you to get the attention of viewers fast and make your point concise & direct.
I need to understand exactly what's on the table.
I'm glad that you liked my previous video recording.
There're lots of 2-3 minute videos that do not resonate with people.

Marketing Your Value

Ali: My time is worth more than a possible $100 and $100 doesn't mean that much to me anyway.

I do see that she is not valuing your time and expertise enough.
Given that you have video filming, editing and acting experience as well.
I think you could highlight these values that you bring to the table.

I'm writing this out on my first draft so it may not be the best or most concise way to phrase it:

Her: We are only looking for a 2-3 minute video.  ...

Ali: Ah thanks for letting me know further.
2-3 minute video requires me to think a lot about the content.
For short videos, getting to the point fast and hooking the audience are key.
I may have to brainstorm a lot for this to be effective.
But I do have acting experience and video editing skills which can help bring the most impact on what you have in mind.

I think that, if you want to highlight your professionalism more, you can talk about going away from camera phones:

Ali: We consistently put out high quality videos for our clients.
It represents our brand and dedication towards high-quality videos.
As such, we are not so keen on shooting with our computer or camera phone.

What do you think?

I agree with Matthew regarding the wording of loss/benefit.

There is also a major issue behind the confusion, and that it makes you look very calculative and bean-counter, as if to say "I only talk to you or show interest if you tell me what you're going to give me, otherwise, F-off".

Your requests for fair exchange are fair, good, and smart, but they should be addressed less literally.
And better speaking.

For example:

Yeah, interesting.
Hey, look, it's interesting, the only thing that I'm thinking is that if there are many competitors, then I might shoot that video, and then maybe not be selected, so I basically do all that work upfront, you know what I mean?

You share the exact same concern, but you come across as less calculative, more friendly, more collaborative even. And you make her reach her own conclusion.

Chances are she would have said:

Yeah, sure I know what you mean.

And then maybe even told you something like "it's not that many competitors" or "we like how you work anyway, so we'd probably go with you".

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

Stings a little to hear you say that, Lucio, but it'll feel rewarding when I face a similar situation and know how to approach it better thanks to your input.

And, Matthew, glad to see you were also right on this one :). Thanks for your note as well.

Lucio: "...so I basically do all that work upfront..."

I had actually written something along those lines and then deleted it.

It felt like she didn't view it as being that much work so I didn't want to give her that out. I wanted to keep the conversation about the fairness of the deal itself (the risk is off) instead of about the fairness of the effort required.

Another one of my concerns was that this company has a reputation in the industry for being a "scam". I succeed through it, and I was the exception. The hundreds of other contestants who went to the competition and didn't win haven't had as much success due to relying solely on the company and competition which gave the company a bad name.

Providing them with any promotion would affect my reputation, but I was still willing to collaborate because even if my progress is mostly a result of my hard work, they gave me a platform to reap the fruits of my labor. So, I was looking for a way to make it fair since the deal comes at the cost of more than my time without damaging rapport too much.

Next time I'll likely just turn down the deal sooner if I don't like it. And, when faced with a similar situation outside of this company, I'll follow your advice, Lucio.

Thanks again to everyone who provided feedback.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano
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