Practice your power pose and start with an assertive handshake to set the groundwork for gaining the upper hand
The next time I buy a new car, I’m taking Fotini Iconomopoulos with me. I’m not going to say a word, I’m just going to watch a pro handle a negotiation.
Iconomopoulos is a chair for the Network of Executive Women, and her mouthful of an official title – Negotiation, Communication, & Commercial Strategy Specialist – hints at the large corporate stages she works on. Taking her to an automotive showroom might be like taking a Howitzer to a pub league darts night, but her tips for buying a car are gold.
Our conversation was initially about the very real differences between how women and men negotiate, or fail to. If you’re a woman and dread buying a car because the process feels adversarial, you aren’t alone. But what if you could deal from a place of confidence, of strength? What if you could learn a few tips to balance the power scale? Buying a car isn’t just about securing the best price; it’s about making sure you’re buying the right car for your needs.
Iconomopoulos points out all the subtle – and not so subtle – ways a negotiation is controlled, and who does that controlling. It’s imperative that as a buyer, you establish the groundwork for not just what you may eventually buy, but how you will be treated in that transaction.
“You send a signal from the opening handshake,” she says, explaining that in this moment, you are messaging that you will be in a position of control. You can form the groundwork, letting them know this is the first appointment of the day for you, and you have a limited amount of time. “You anchor this position from the beginning.”
As a woman, if you’ve gone into a car dealership with a man, whether it’s your husband, your father, your friend or even your son, you may have experienced a sales representative gravitating towards that man with his or her explanations, even if you asked the questions, even if you’re the one writing the cheque, even if you’re the one who will be driving the car. The industry has worked hard in recent years to rebalance this, but the fact remains that too many still believe that men have a magic chromosome that allows them to understand complicated things better.
“Be prepared,” says Iconomopoulos. “Men are more confident; that’s testosterone at work. Women experience more stress, which is cortisol. You can physically prepare yourself with what I call power poses; they will ramp up your testosterone, regardless of gender, and help ditch the stress,” she says. Literally taking up more space is a non-verbal tell that you are in control. Wear something that makes you feel confident. Stand up straight.
Language, of course, is a huge part of a negotiation. Iconomopoulos suggests ditching the soft language that will present you as “movable.” “Don’t use words like: probably, maybe, around,” she says. Be concise, and look for hints of that soft language from the other side of the desk. “If you don’t hear ‘the price is X’,” says Iconomopoulos, then you have a negotiation beginning. “They’ve just signalled they have room to move. Listen for it.”
I asked the number one thing women do wrong. “They talk too much,” says Iconomopoulos, with a laugh. “Shut up. Silence is far more effective.” She admits women are socialized into much of that behaviour, using more words to justify a question, to overcompensate for, well, everything. She also notes younger women are often less jaded and more willing to step up, a clue that perhaps we are changing how we raise our girls.
I asked Iconomopoulos how to get around the problem of a sales rep addressing the wingman instead of the buyer. I shouldn’t have to leave a trusted friend or family member behind simply because they’re male.
“Go in with a game plan,” she suggests. “You initiate the introduction, you start the conversation, and your companion should simply say, ‘Lorraine is the decision maker.’ Own your presence, and pick up on subtleties. If this isn’t going the way you want it to, be polite and concise and simply say thank you for your time, but we won’t be reaching an agreement today.” You are the one spending money; you can spend it anywhere you like.
Do your research; ask specific questions
Boost your testosterone; pull off a few power poses before you go in!
Establish you are the one the salesperson will be dealing with
Refrain from using “soft” language, while listening for hints of it from the other side
Don’t be afraid to say no and walk away
I often make reference to the fact that the internet has changed the way consumers buy cars, with buyers now able to access a level playing field when it comes to information. There will always be differences between men and women, and there will always be inherent advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to negotiating on a new car purchase, however, Iconomopoulos’s tips hand power back to the buyer – male or female.