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Shona Thoma is an IReL Officer at the Irish Research eLibrary, Dublin. The following post was originally published as “Negotiation – not as alien as you might think” on Shona’s blog Information Sauce. Shona has also discussed her route into librarianship in an NLPN interview blog post.
This post was prompted by an observation at last month’s UKSG Conference session, Meet the New Professionals (It has been languishing in Drafts for a while). After each speaker gave their informative and encouraging presentations, there was some discussion between delegates and the panel on skills of new professionals, and some perceived gaps in what employers are looking for. One employer stated that they did not get good quality candidates for a role they had recently advertised. Whilst a few suggested, and I agree, that this might be down to the job description being off-putting, there are some areas that new graduates are reluctant to embrace. Another delegate mentioned that they found it difficult to hire people for positions that require negotiation skills. The response from some of the “newer” professionals was that this is because negotiation is hard, and they feel unprepared to do this type of work.
I have been working as an eResources librarian for an Irish university consortium for the past 16 months. This role requires some confidence in negotiating. It is not the main part of my role, but it is significant. Prior to starting this role, I think I would have shared this apprehension about negotiation. However, if you are a new professional and you are looking at roles that require these skills, I think you should reconsider your opinion, or your belief in your abilities. If you were asked if you are good at managing relationships and keeping key stakeholders informed, you might be more likely to say you have the ability to do this. When negotiation is mentioned, especially in the current climate of lean budgets and absurd price hikes, this seems more intimidating. However, being a skilful negotiator is not a big leap from being good at managing relationships. Throw in some passion for librarianship, access to information, and the ever important advocacy skills, and you have all the building blocks to practice successful negotiation.
There are some great resources available online to develop your ability to negotiate, I did a MOOC from Coursera which gave a nice overview of how to prepare for negotiations. If I have learnt one thing, it is that preparation is key. If you are well equipped with all the evidence you need to make a compelling argument for your side, you are more than half way there.
To emphasise that negotiating is something that we all need to do (and to avoid discussing negotiations I have been involved with for IReL), I will illustrate how good preparation, and taking a calm and controlled approach, helped me with a negotiation outside of work. A few months ago I received a letter from the company that manages our apartment block stating that our rent was to be increased by €150 per month. This is the process I went through, which I’m sure you will be able to relate to from some aspect of your professional or personal life:
My first reaction was to prepare a list of repairs that were needed. I also calculated the percentage increase they were looking for, and compared this to the percentage pay increase my partner and I might expect (they were, of course, miles apart). I looked up the rent for apartments of similar size in the area.
Gathering supporting evidence
Seeking information or advice
I knew that there was a recent piece of legislation relating to rent increases, but I couldn’t work out if this applied to our situation. Having received clear information from Threshold in the past, I decided to call them and see if they could clarify our rights. I am really glad that I reached out to Threshold as they were very familiar with the new legislation and how it applied to all sorts of renting scenarios. They confirmed that the landlords would not be able to increase our rent at all as this new legislation applied to all tenancies, even if they started before the legislation was introduced. The only thing we had to do was wait until we had been there for 6 months in order to have full tenancy rights.
Despite emails from the management company asking us to respond, Threshold advised us to not reply for a couple of days, until we reached the date when we had been there exactly 6 months. Once we reached that date, I replied quoting the relevant legislation and reminding them that an increase was prohibited for a further 18 months.
Being gracious and maintaining a good relationship
The management company accepted this, and implied that they thought we had lived there for longer. Despite having doubts about this excuse, any argument beyond this would be unnecessary and only damaging to our subsequent needs as tenants. All that was left was to be polite, and privately a little bit smug…
This may not seem as dramatic as you might believe negotiations should be, but trust me, this is mirrored in many negotiations that take place between suppliers and libraries, and in other contexts too. As someone new to this, these are the skills that are needed to set you up. When it comes to taking on the bigger and more dramatic battles, you will have learnt so much more, and there will doubtless be expertise to draw on, be that more senior colleagues or external stakeholders with an interest in the resource / library budget.
I am no expert, but I’m learning, and I assure you that any other early career librarian with a passion for access to information can learn too.