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In this episode of MarieTV, we do have some adult language. So if you do have little ones around, grab your headphones now.

Marie Forleo:

Hey, it’s Marie Forleo, and welcome to another episode of MarieTV and the Marie Forleo Podcast. If you’ve ever wished that you were a stronger, better negotiator, you are going to love today’s episode. My guest is Alex Carter. She teaches negotiation skills at Columbia Law School, and she’s trained thousands of people all over the world, including diplomats at the United Nations. And today, we’re talking about her new book, which is brilliant. Everyone needs to get it. It’s called Ask for More: Ten Questions to Negotiate Anything. Enjoy.

Marie Forleo:

Alexandra, thank you so much for joining us today on the show.

Alexandra Carter:

Thanks so much, Marie. I’m so happy to be here.

Marie Forleo:

Yeah, it’s a pleasure. So first off, why don’t you tell me about yourself?

Alexandra Carter:

Sure. So I’m a professor at Columbia Law School. I’m a multi-passionate person, also, I would say. So in my day job, I teach law students, and they work alongside me as we help people negotiate better. So I teach what’s called mediation, which is the art of helping people have better conversation and resolve conflict. And that’s where I’ve been for the last 12 years.

Alexandra Carter:

And then also over the last, I’d say, seven to eight, ever since having my daughter, I’ve also been a negotiation trainer for a lot of organizations, whether it’s the UN or large companies or NGOs. And then recently, I wrote a book to help bring what I saw as a negotiation approach that really worked to people before they got into conflict, just to help them achieve their dreams.

Marie Forleo:

Yeah, because I mean, negotiation, it’s nothing that I learned in school. And I feel like it can be such an intimidating topic for those of us who are unfamiliar, because I think, at least in my mind when I hear that word, negotiation, some type of adversarial conflict. Or that feeling, at least, is what comes up to me. Is that often what you hear from people who, again, are not trained in the art of negotiation?

Alexandra Carter:

Absolutely, and I hear it from some people who are trained in the art of negotiation, and they just learned it the old way. So when I was a young professional, when I was a lawyer, a young woman out in the workforce, I, too, thought it was that, that negotiation was an adversarial back and forth between two people over money, right? So negotiation is the thing you do with a potential client right before you signed the deal. Or negotiation is when you go into your boss once a year and say, “Hi. Alex Carter. Keep me in mind when you’re making your salary decisions.”

Alexandra Carter:

And over time, I started to realize that it was a lot more than that. And when I made that mental shift, when I realized what negotiation really is, it changed everything about my life.

Marie Forleo:

And so tell us, from your point of view, what is negotiation? What is it really?

Alexandra Carter:

So negotiation is just any conversation in which you are steering a relationship. That’s it. And it first crystallized for me when I went to Hawaii on my honeymoon, back in 2006. I was like, “Oh god, if I forget the day that I got married, I’m going to be in big trouble on this podcast.”

Alexandra Carter:

But I went to honeymoon with my husband. And we got in this kayak, and we’re on this beautiful river, looking at the scenery. And the guide looks at me and says, “Please negotiate your kayak to the left so we can wind up on that beach.” And I just thought, “That’s it. When you’re negotiating a kayak, what are you doing? You’re steering.”

Alexandra Carter:

And so what I discovered on that trip was I don’t have to wait until the once-a-year with my boss to steer that relationship and teach him how to value me. I don’t need to wait until that conversation with my client right before we sign a deal to teach that person how to think about me and my expertise. I can steer conversations throughout. And so by the time I get to that big money talk, I’m going to be so much more prepared. When I realized it’s not about getting over on somebody or somebody getting over on you, when it’s just about steering relationships, it changed everything, both my confidence level and also what I went out to achieve.

Marie Forleo:

Hmm. And so I can often hear questions from the audience because I’ve been doing this for so long. And so I can hear the voices saying, “But wait, Alex. Isn’t that manipulation? Isn’t that you controlling where this is going?” What would you say if someone is feeling that little bit of fear or hesitation about not being a kind or good person?

Alexandra Carter:

Yeah, so here’s what I would say. I want you to get back in the kayak. Now, I want you to imagine that you’re sitting in the kayak, and you don’t do anything. You put your paddle down. What happens? You start to kind of gently drift, right, in the way that the wind and the water are going to take you.

Alexandra Carter:

And so what I want people to know is that something is always steering. If it’s not going to be you, if you don’t stand up and say, “Here’s where I see myself in my future,” somebody else is going to decide that for you. And it doesn’t have to be a domination. When I’m in a kayak, I’m working with the water. And the approach that I teach to negotiation, Marie, is steering relationships for mutual benefit. When I stand up, when I bring my full self to the table and I negotiate from a place of knowledge as to my needs and where I’m going, I can achieve those and create value for the person across the table.

Marie Forleo:

I love that. I have a wonderful question that you posed, and I want you to speak into this. Why is opening a question with the phrase “tell us about” much more effective than asking someone “why,” if we’re in this context of negotiation and steering?

Alexandra Carter:

Yeah. “Why” puts people on the defensive. This is a question that we ask all the time, and Marie, we ask this of ourselves just as much we ask other people. So I might say to myself, “Why haven’t I asked for that promotion yet? Why haven’t I lost weight? Why aren’t I where I want to be in life?” Those types of questions, you can feel it, right?

Marie Forleo:

Yeah.

Alexandra Carter:

They’re blaming. They’re unhelpful. They keep us stuck in the past. Likewise, if I look at you and I say, “Well, why didn’t you submit that report?” Or, “Why are we in this place as a company?” That’s a question that puts the person on the defensive and also doesn’t give you the most information.

Alexandra Carter:

I instead say, “Marie, tell me about your experience. Tell me about the last three months of operations at the company.” That is a question that moves from blame to diagnosis. It moves us from the past to the future. When you open a conversation with “tell me,” you’re going to do two things. You’re going to get the most information possible. In the book, I call it fishing with a net. When you say to somebody, “Tell me,” it’s like you’re casting a huge net. You’re going to get a ton of information that’s useful.

Alexandra Carter:

But the other thing you do is you start to create trust with the other person. And when they trust you, they open up to you more, and they’re more likely to want to do a deal with you.

Marie Forleo:

I love it. So why do some people avoid asking for more? It’s the title of your book. And what are some of the consequences of not handling this aspect of life?

Alexandra Carter:

Yeah. There are a few people, a few reasons we don’t ask for more. So one is, I think we’re taught sometimes, especially as women, that we’re lucky to be there, that it’s not nice to ask for more, that people aren’t going to respond well, and we should just be good and do the work. May I say, I think this is especially acute during a time of crisis or uncertainty. People think, “Well, especially now, I should just be happy to be there.”

Alexandra Carter:

But do you know, there have been studies done about women who graduate from MBA school, right? So they graduate with an MBA. They’re less likely to negotiate their salary than men, their first salary out of graduate school. Do you know if you don’t negotiate your first salary and everything else stays the same from there, you’re going to need to work eight years longer to retire at the same level as the man who negotiated his salary, the first salary?

Marie Forleo:

Whoa. That’s a lot of life.

Alexandra Carter:

It’s a lot of life, and it really has a profound impact. I want people to know that when you stand up and ask for more, it’s actually not a selfish act. First of all, when you claim your worth, the person on the other side gets somebody who is fully charged up, ready to go, and excited to be fully utilized at their job.

Alexandra Carter:

The second thing is that you actually create more seats around the table. This goes back, Marie, to the first time that I negotiated my own salary. I was super nervous, and I walked in in my power suit. And I was like, “All right, I can do this.” So I went in. I had a range in mind, and they came in above. So I had just enough on the ball to keep my face neutral, and I said, “Thanks so much. I’m going to run these numbers. I’ll get back to you.”

Alexandra Carter:

I walked out, and I thought, “I’m not sure what to do.” So I called a senior woman in my field, and I said, “Duh, what do I do? They came in above.” And she goes, “I’m going to tell you what to do, Alex. You’re going to go in there, and you’re going to ask for more.” And I said, “I’m going to ask for more?” And she said, “Yes, because when you teach someone how to value you, you teach him how to value all of us. And so if you’re not going to go in and ask for more for yourself, I want you to go in there and do it for the sisterhood. Do it for the woman who is coming up behind you.”

Alexandra Carter:

And that was the moment, Marie, that I realized that when I ask for more, I normalize it. I make it so that the woman next to me, the woman coming after me, doesn’t have to fight quite so hard, and people assume that we’re going to go in and claim our worth. It actually creates more seats at the table for other women coming after us.

Marie Forleo:

Mmhmm. So tell me more about the impetus to write the book specifically for non-negotiators. What was that about for you and your heart?

Alexandra Carter:

Yeah, so I wanted, first of all, to redefine the way people were thinking about negotiation. A lot of times, people imagine that you have to be a serious business person. You have to wear a suit to work. You have to be a hardcore money person in order to negotiate. And it’s simply not true.

Alexandra Carter:

If you’re the kind of person who people trust, if you’re a relationship person, if you’re really, really good at getting people to want to work with you over a long period of time, and if you wear pajamas to work in your home office, you, too, are a negotiator. And so I wanted people to know that you can be a great negotiator simply by asking the right questions. It’s not about charging in and making the most aggressive arguments. There’s research to show that actually the people who ask the right questions of themselves and of other people are the very best negotiators, not just doing better in terms of money, which they do, but in terms of getting people to want to be in partnership you for a long time.

Marie Forleo:

Talk to me more about… because I think questions are one of the most powerful tools that we have in life. And most of us, myself included, right, we don’t ask them enough, or we kind of forget how valuable they are. So can you talk a little bit to us just about the power of questions and how they play into helping us become stronger negotiators?

Alexandra Carter:

Yeah. Questions shape our entire reality. The questions we wake up every day and ask ourselves determine our mental state, our decisions, our emotions, everything about that day and the days that follow. So it’s really important to think about the kinds of questions that you’re asking yourself. There’s actually research to show that leaders are the people who ask themselves the best questions. And then when we sit down with other people, the questions you ask them will shape how they see the situation and how they see you.

Alexandra Carter:

Marie, I know a lot of people, especially during this time at home, had been doing puzzles. You ever get one of those thousand-piece puzzles?

Marie Forleo:

Yes.

Alexandra Carter:

Okay, I want people to imagine… Most of the questions we ask are really closed questions. It might be like, “Marie, did you have a good week at work?” If I ask you that question and you say yes, that’s the equivalent of putting one of those pieces in that thousand-piece puzzle. If I ask you, “Marie, tell me about your week,” that gives you the opportunity to put a whole bunch of puzzle pieces down, right? It’s like splashing a bunch out so we start to get a sense of the bigger picture. When you change the questions you ask, you change the conversation with yourself and with other people.

Marie Forleo:

I love that so much. So your book has 10 questions to negotiate everything. And I love that you broke it up into kind of two halves, five for the mirror, which is what we ask of ourselves, questions we ask ourselves, and five for the window, which is the other person, because obviously, it takes both sides. What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re trying to negotiate?

Alexandra Carter:

Yeah. So one of the first mistakes people make is they forget where negotiation starts. If negotiation is about steering relationships, what’s the most important relationship of your life? It’s the one with yourself, right? And so negotiation starts not when you sit down with someone else. It starts at home with you. So the first mistake people make is they don’t take the time to ask themselves the right questions.

Alexandra Carter:

And so the mirror section of Ask for More is just that. It’s five great questions that people can use to look in the mirror and get set before any conversation. And the first place to start, the first question you should always ask is, “What’s the problem I want to solve?” A lot of times, we think we need to start our negotiation by brainstorming solutions.

Alexandra Carter:

So let’s say our business is having a bit of difficulty. We’ve just lost a client or a segment of clients. I think sometimes the temptation is for people to say, “Okay, I just had this loss. I’m going to write things down. I’m going to reach out to my entire Rolodex, or I’m going to reach out to all of my past clients.”

Alexandra Carter:

And when I’m counseling people, I say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s start at the beginning. What’s the problem you want to solve? Because the problem, defining the right problem, determines your success in negotiation.”

Alexandra Carter:

Let’s think about that entrepreneur, that small business. If they’re telling me, “Well, I’m going to reach out to everybody because I need to make up my revenue for this month,” is your problem really that you’re just trying to make up the revenue for this month? Or is the problem you want to solve that you want to get your best long term clients as you pivot your business so that those people are not just going to be with you for that month, but they’re going to be with you for the next quarter and beyond?

Alexandra Carter:

Because if that’s the problem we want to solve, we’re pivoting the business, then maybe we’re not blasting the Rolodex. In fact, maybe we’re doing targeted outreach to your best yeses, the people who are going to be your ideal clients for the future. When you start with the problem you want to solve, it directs all of your steps from there.

Alexandra Carter:

One more example. Let’s say you work in a corporation, okay? And you’re thinking, “I need to go in and ask for a 20% raise.” Okay, yet again, what’s the problem you want to solve? Is it merely that you just want X amount of money coming in the door every month? Or are you trying to teach management how to value you? Are you trying to teach them that you are destined for the C suite? If that’s the problem you’re trying to solve, then maybe money’s part of it, but money is not the whole story. That would shape… How you want to solve that problem shapes not only what you ask for, but how you ask for it.

Marie Forleo:

So you got a second question because you just kind of covered question number one, right, is about what’s the problem I want to solve and really framing that and taking a step back and thinking more deeply about the larger context.

Marie Forleo:

Let’s just go into the second out of 10 questions, just to give people a little taste so that… I want everybody to get your book. But your second question to ask ourselves is, “What do I need?” So can you talk about the tangibles and the intangibles of our needs? Because I think it’s a place where so many of us can get tripped up.

Alexandra Carter:

Yeah, for sure. So needs, knowing what you need drives everything we do. When people make demands in negotiation, it’s coming from what they need. Even how we feel, Marie, like your emotions as you go into a conversation come from your needs. We feel what we feel because we need what we need.

Alexandra Carter:

And so in the book, I divide it into two kinds, right? So tangibles are the normal things we think about when we go into negotiation. I need this amount of salary. I need three new clients this quarter. I need my kids to be off their screens at this time, every day, because all that stuff in the house, god knows that is also a negotiation, right?

Alexandra Carter:

So the thing about the tangibles is they’re often not enough, right? That’s the surface level. I want people to go to the intangibles, also. And what’s that? Intangibles are not things that you can count, touch, or see. They’re the values that make life worth living.

Alexandra Carter:

So when people say to you, “Marie, I want financial freedom. I want a sense of achievement. I want acknowledgement from the people in my life,” so those are often the keys to the kingdom. The thing about intangible needs is, if you just say, “Marie, I want financial freedom,” it’s still hard for you to help because that’s not very concrete.

Alexandra Carter:

So what I want people to do is write those down and then ask themselves, “What does financial freedom look like? What does respect look like?” Because financial freedom, for example, is different for every person. One person might say, “Well, financial freedom means I can pay all my bills every month and save 10%.” For another person, financial freedom means building wealth so that the next generation doesn’t feel that insecurity that they did growing up.

Alexandra Carter:

And so when you take those intangibles and ask yourself, “What does this look like for me?” That then powers you forward and helps you create a specific and concrete action plan to go out and do it.

Marie Forleo:

I’m getting so motivated, listening to you. You’re so good. Next question. What’s your favorite question to turn a no into a yes?

Alexandra Carter:

Oh, I’ve had so much experience with this, Marie, over the last few months.

Marie Forleo:

I love it.

Alexandra Carter:

I feel like I’m now a specialist in turning no into, yes. Okay, can I just talk for a minute about the fear of the no?

Marie Forleo:

Yes.

Alexandra Carter:

I think so many people live life fearing that no, right? They think if they go in and they get a no, it means that they have to crawl out of the office on all fours and never raise that again. It’s simply not true. You want to know how to turn a no into a yes? Just ask a four-word question. What are your concerns? That’s it.

Alexandra Carter:

Somebody says… You make a proposal. They say, “Sorry, that’s not going to work.” Simply say, “Okay, thanks. What are your concerns?” That is a magic question because what it does is it gives the other person the floor to tell you what’s holding up the deal.

Alexandra Carter:

Do you know, Marie, I’ve been counseling companies during this time, the time during the recession and the coronavirus crisis. And one of them was a startup company. They’d raised a couple rounds, getting ready for their next round. And they called me because they had a big meeting coming up. They are a product supplier, and they had a big retailer meeting. And they had gotten a no twice before from this retailer. They walked in. They did their glossy pitch deck. They were like, “We totally got this deal.” They did not have the deal.

Alexandra Carter:

So this time, I was like, “We’re going to do something different.” They walked in for the third meeting. They sat down. They did not show their pitch deck. They simply said, “We’re so happy to be here. We’ve been here twice before. Tell us your concerns with our product.” And then they sat back and waited.

Alexandra Carter:

And the retailer said, “Okay, you want to know why you didn’t get the deal? Here’s why you didn’t get the deal. I didn’t think my consumers were ready yet for this kind of premium product. Data just were not there. Recently, I feel like it’s a little bit more mixed. I’m not sure, but I thought it was enough of a reason to call you in.”

Alexandra Carter:

Bingo. Now they had the keys to the kingdom. When you ask somebody about their concerns, you can pitch to those concerns. And quite often, you’d be amazed at the fact that you can turn a no to a yes simply by asking and honoring somebody’s concerns. In that case, they didn’t even need to show the pitch deck. They just pitched to those concerns, and they walked out with a six-figure deal during coronavirus off one question.

Marie Forleo:

It just speaks to the heart and the power of people feeling truly heard.

Alexandra Carter:

Exactly, right?

Marie Forleo:

Right.

Alexandra Carter:

Yes, because so often, right, Marie, somebody says no, and we’d want to argue with them. But this is about truly honoring what concerns somebody has. And the fact is, Marie, no matter how awesome I or you or anybody else may be, people almost always have concerns. And so inviting them to share them is a real sign of confidence on your part. It shows that you know what you have to offer, and you’re so competent that you can spend time truly listening to them. And when you listen to people, you create a lot of value for both sides of the table.

Marie Forleo:

So we’re in this extraordinary moment, historic moment. We are recording this at a time when there is a global pandemic. We are recording this at a time where there are global protests in terms of injustice. There is so much emotion. There is so much uncertainty, and it is just continuing to unfold, right?

Marie Forleo:

So two things, really. I want to talk about as we shift into talking with others, I think something you shared was so good. And when I read it, it got to my heart. You wrote, “Can we just assume the best of each other going forward?” Can you speak to why this is such an important idea to embrace as we enter tough conversations and as we enter those conversations in the larger context of so much uncertainty?

Marie Forleo:

Uncertainty is always with us, of course. It’s a natural part of life. But I feel like right now, it is amplified to a level, and it has been sustained over months and months and months that many of us have never experienced this in our lifetime.

Alexandra Carter:

Yeah, it is, right? I think we’re all going to be professionals at dealing with uncertainty by the end of this. I mean, it can’t be overstated. This is a historic moment on so many levels.

Alexandra Carter:

One of the things that helps, Marie, during times of uncertainty, first of all, for me, is to think about what I am certain of. And what I am certain of is my values and the things that get me up in the morning. So I do think the first step toward having productive conversations with other people is taking that look in the mirror and really reckoning with “what am I feeling today?” That’s one of the questions in the mirror section, but it’s writing down and releasing some of our own emotions so that then when we get into a conversation with somebody else, we can come from a place of curiosity and discovery. That, for me, Marie, is the key to everything.

Alexandra Carter:

And I think that sometimes we have people in our lives a long time, like a partner, a spouse, kids, longtime friends, or colleagues. And we make the mistake of assuming we know what’s on their minds and in their hearts because we’ve known them a long time. And the fact is that sometimes we don’t, and so we have to stay curious, even in those long term business and personal relationships.

Alexandra Carter:

And so for me, training as a mediator… So what I do is I kind of come into a room, and people are having a conflict. And they’re the experts. I’m the person who’s there to learn and help them have a better conversation. And coming in as a learner, I find, is what has helped me the most, because when I start a conversation with somebody else…

Alexandra Carter:

And let’s say, we’re talking about something really challenging, right? Whether it’s at work or whether we’re talking about coronavirus, our attitudes toward it, or whether we’re talking about racial justice, my first attitude is to be curious about myself, what I’m feeling, not judgmental, right? Curious about what I’m feeling, my reactions, the way I’m thinking about the problem, and then to extend the same thing to them, right? To be curious, to assume the best, to be open to listening… Listening is really the foundation, not just of negotiation, but of everything worthwhile in life.

Marie Forleo:

Well said. This notion of assuming and making that generous assumption that people are doing their very best at any given moment is such a powerful idea. And I think it at least has helped me continue to stay rooted in my heart, continue to stay rooted in that mutuality, that common humanity, that desire for connection, that desire for mutual growth and love. So I just really adore you. Go for it. Go for it.

Alexandra Carter:

You just made me think of something. So I was thinking about the times that I have not assumed the best, and where you’re pulling that from is a deeply personal section of the book. Ask for More is a business book. It’s in the business section. It’s written in part for business people.

Alexandra Carter:

But it was important for me in the book to talk about the places that I have fallen short of my own values and times when I lost sight of the very things I teach. And so the moment in the book that I describe not assuming the best was during a family conflict over my dad, who had been diagnosed with a terminal brain disease. And I ended up really speaking angrily to a beloved family member over this. He asked a very innocuous question about my dad’s medicines, and I exploded on him. I did not assume the best.

Alexandra Carter:

And why did I not assume the best? I didn’t because I was falling prey to what I call the big two. The big two are the two emotions that blow up our conversations, our deals, and our relationships more than any other. They are fear and guilt. I was feeling deep fear over not just my dad’s condition, but how I was handling it as part of the group that we were making decisions for my dad. And I was feeling guilt that I couldn’t do more to save him.

Alexandra Carter:

And so the moments in life when we find it most difficult to assume the best of other people, frequently it’s because we are feeling our own fear and guilt. And so when we work on that, when we recognize that, and when we honor that it is so natural during a time of crisis to feel fear and guilt… There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the most normal thing in the world. The key is to deal with that, to recognize it, and so we don’t project it out onto other people in the form of anger or assumption about what they are bringing to the table.

Marie Forleo:

Thank you for that. And thank you for your book, and thank you for who you are and what you’re sharing in the world. And I know I just want to acknowledge this, when we were setting up this interview, that your dad got COVID, and thankfully, he recovered.

Alexandra Carter:

Yes, he did. He was diagnosed on the day that Ask for More was published. And I had an hour in the morning where I allowed myself to celebrate, I thought, “This is it. My book is born.” You know this feeling. You feel like you’ve summited Mount Everest. You did it. It’s out.

Alexandra Carter:

And then I got that call, and I thought, “I’m not sure what’s happening here, but I’m going to try to continue to lean into what I teach. I’m just going to take it one step at a time.” And it’s been miraculous. He was the only person in his hospice facility to recover. Life is beautiful, and I’ve been so blessed by all of the support from my entire network.

Marie Forleo:

God bless him, and God bless you. So I’m going to say this to everyone listening right now. Now Alex and I would love to hear from you, first of all. You need to pick up her book, Ask for More. It is brilliant. But we would love to hear what was the most intriguing, eye-opening, heart-opening part of this conversation for you. And most importantly, how can you turn that insight into action starting right now?

Marie Forleo:

So as always, the best conversations happen over at marieforleo.com. So head on over there and leave a comment now, and if you’re not yet subscribed to our email list, please go do that. We’ll send out personal updates. Sometimes they’re email-only broadcasts, all kinds of good stuff that I just don’t share anywhere else.

Marie Forleo:

So for everyone watching, thank you so much. And until next time, stay on your game and keep going for your dreams because the world really does need that very special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for tuning in, and we’ll catch you next time. Thanks, Alex.

Alexandra Carter:

Thanks.

Marie Forleo:

Hey, you having trouble bringing your dreams to life? Well guess what. The problem isn’t you. It’s not that you’re not hard-working or intelligent or deserving. It’s that you haven’t yet installed the one key belief that will change it all: Everything is Figureoutable. It’s my new book and it’s out now. Learn more at everythingisfigureoutable.com. 

 

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