Negotiations: It’s Nice To Be Important, But It’s Important Not To Be A Jerk

Dear Paige,Dr. Paige Turner

Woman-to-woman, do you think women always get the shaft in negotiations? I’ve read about top tier actresses getting paid far less than their male co-stars and even less than male supporting actors.

I want to stand up for myself and get the best deal possible, but aren’t women who do this labeled “bitches”?

Naturally, I want everyone to like me, but this injustice makes me so angry that I’m actually starting to feel quite bitchy.

Untamed Shrew

 

Dear U.S.

I feel you. And man, oh man does the man/woman double standard piss me off.

It’s bad enough that we don’t get equal pay for equal work, but we’re expected to be ladylike about it too? FTW?

Jennifer Lawrence, in her essay for feminist newsletter Lenny, titled “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co‑Stars?,” writes, “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need.”

Lawrence elaborates, “But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ She concludes, “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable! Fuck that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard.”

Women getting shafted in negotiations gets me so hot and bothered, that I’m turning this over to my colleague Barri Evins, who has one of my all time favorite stories about being cool as a cucumber while simultaneously tough as nails:

Of all the negotiations I’ve been involved in, the rights to a children’s video game we wanted when I was President of Debra Hill’s production company was the most complex. A ton of parties were involved. An award-winning children’s book author who created the game, an executive at a local PBS affiliate that developed the game and wanted to be involved in the production, the station who owned the story rights, and game creator who held merchandising rights. We needed to close this deal to be able to take the project to CAA, which was on board for packaging, and then set it up at a studio. We set a call to iron out the option.

This was likely the most expensive negotiation of my career on a minute-by-minute basis. First there was the Business Affairs attorney for the affiliate – in-house, so on salary, but still pricey. Next, there was the lawyer serving as their outside council – I’m gonna guess $400/$500 an hour, possibly more. On my end, with the major points hammered out and reviewed by our attorney and agent, we opted for the junior attorney on Debra’s team. Probably billing about $200ish an hour. Attorneys can charge more the longer they have been practicing, so this was a money saving choice for us at an early juncture, when it seemed prudent.

I was all set to go. I had spent a good deal of time working with the author and the executive. I knew what was important to them – participation in the process – and was prepared to take that into consideration. I felt confident that we could negotiate a deal now that would enable us to close a studio deal later, when we set up the project.

Negotiating Negotiations With The BarracudaSo, who’s the Big Fish on this call? Mr. Outside Council. And he wanted to make sure everyone knew he was a Barracuda, baby.

We got to a deal point in the negotiations regarding taking a percentage of the rights money for our company. Since the game creators were not able to do so, we developed a comprehensive, cinematic story and full treatment – plus a glossy presentation package for buyers. We created original characters, including the hero – a very significant contribution, especially in the eyes of the WGA where creating the story is generally worth 25% of the purchase price. I wanted 12.5% of the fee for our contribution, but was prepared to accept 10%.

Then Big Fish starts screaming at me. I’m don’t even remember what he was screaming about but it was loud and long. I’m not thrown, because, I had had experienced this before in a negotiation and learned that it was most likely nothing but a tactic. A plot used by a blowhard to make sure you knew who was on top.

All the time Mr. Big Fish, Esq. was screaming, not on single person on the call says a word. Not the female, in-house council and, especially notable for her silence, the female junior attorney representing us. Not a single word came out of her mouth, when she should – at the very least – have said, “Excuse me, you can’t speak to my client that way.” She didn’t make a peep during the entire call. Billable hours are in five-minute increments, and we were getting absolutely nothing for our money.

I decided to sit quietly and let the Big Fish scream to his heart’s content.

When he was done, I calmly offered him the percentage that was more favorable to us, than to his clients. He swallowed it unquestioningly, hook, line and sinker. I was prepared to play nice, but this jerk bullied his way into a worse deal, rather than a better one. Who’s on top now, baby?

Overall, his argumentativeness in these negotiations gave me great concern for our ability to close a deal with the studio. Sadly, I was right. In the end, they blew the deal over a fight for their percentage of merchandising rights, a highly speculative income stream. Ka-BOOM.

The lesson? Don’t be the jerk in the deal. Ruin it for everyone and no one comes out on top.

But never allow yourself to be walked over. A firm response, spoken authoritatively and calmly, can be surprisingly effective. It’s possible to drown out a scream with a self-assured whisper.

Freezing up and failing to respond is a sign of weakness in negotiations. For that reason, I would never work with that then junior attorney again. If asked, I wouldn’t hesitate to recount this story about her failure to do her job, and leaving a client to hang out to dry. Luckily for me, past negotiations had prepared me well, so I was relatively unfazed by the bullying rant and able to take the upper hand in an ever so ladylike way.

Paige here. Now you know why I turned to Barri for a response to your question. In the same situation, I would have likely blown my top at the Barracuda, screwed his innocent clients on the deal, ratted out that incompetent junior attorney to her boss – for starters – recommended that we refuse to pay for her billable hours, and spread the story of her incompetence around town.

Ladylike? Not so much. But sometimes it just feels so f-ing great to be on top.

xoox, Paige

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