They call her The Negotiator. You might think that’s a nickname Fotini Iconomopoulos earned in corporate boardrooms or business school, but Iconomopoulos has been The Negotiator since early childhood. It was her family who gave her the nickname, because she always took a side and made her case.
It turns out that the nickname came with a healthy helping of foreshadowing pointing to what would become an incredible career as an expert negotiator, communicator and author.
Iconomopoulos was generous enough to give some of her time to On Your Terms. This week, host Erin King and Iconomopoulos sat down to talk about the art of negotiation and how to use it to get more of what you want more often.
Building a better life on her terms.
Growing up in a Greek-Canadian household, Iconomopoulos found herself constantly exposed to negotiation. This began when she saw the bartering process during the times her family visited Greece, where bartering for goods is much more commonplace.
“It was an environment where it was totally normal to wheel and deal with somebody,” she said. “My mom’s that stealth negotiator that people don’t realize that they’re negotiating with; she’s so good at it. But my dad is that very obvious sort of negotiator.”
She began to learn about the art of negotiation through those early experiences, but those early experiences also exposed her to a patriarchal worldview in which girls were expected to grow up to become mothers, not world-shaking businesswomen.
She found herself constantly outside of the norm, negotiating her way to the future she wanted—the one her family ultimately supported, but not without some pushback.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Iconomopoulos said. “It’s really been wonderful to have a set of values instilled in me and to watch family members and other people from my culture, who work really hard, who came to countries where they didn’t speak the language, who overcame so much adversity, and it was so inspirational. But at the same time, I’m going, OK, you did all this, but now you want to put me in a box?”
Negotiation: Nature or nurture?
Where does the fire to advocate for yourself and what you really want—despite any pushback and biases you may face—come from? Does it come from within, or is it a product of your experiences and upbringing?
For Iconomopoulos, it’s both. Her older sister fit much better into the mold her family had in mind, suggesting that it was simply in Iconomopoulos’ nature to more passionately argue for what she wanted.
On the other hand, Iconomopoulos saw that her parents’ dream for her was to have a better life than what they had. That was a goal instilled in her from an early age, and she worked hard to achieve it.
She simply interpreted her parents’ vision differently than they did. And it led to a lot of struggle and a ton of negotiation. Iconomopoulos recalled the day she called her father to tell him she had just gotten a book deal with leading publisher HarperCollins.
“And he goes, ‘OK, so I saw your godfather this morning. He’s asking me, when are you going to get married and have some babies?’ I was like, wait, did you not just hear what I said to you?” she said.
Ultimately, Iconomopoulos said, her family takes a lot of pride in her accomplishments. But much of it is thanks to her constantly-sharpened negotiating skills.
How to advocate for yourself and what you’re worth.
Running her own business and helping others in the same position to do so more successfully has taught Iconomopoulos some things about advocating for what you’re really worth—whether in salary negotiations or speaking gigs.
The problem is that we tend to undersell ourselves. It’s an issue often born out of the fear that we’re not going to be perceived as worthy of the cost.
“That is a completely normal response, and the bias that we have toward ourselves—the fact that we discredit how valuable our services and our time is for others—is also really normal,” she said.
Normal, but not something to continue. Iconomopoulos recalled the first time she was pricing a proposal after starting her own business. She asked for advice from her friends, and one of her friends gave her a gem that has stuck with her ever since:
“He said, ‘Whatever you’re thinking, double it,’” she said. “And I did. No joke. No exaggeration.”
Starting high opens up two possibilities, Iconomopoulos said: a pleasant surprise when the client or employer accepts the first price or a chance to better understand what the client or employer is looking for and reach a mutually agreeable price point.
“The reality is that if I put a price that’s too high, and I’m cooperative, then we can continue the conversation until we find a price that’s right,” she said.
Another important consideration, however, is the true scope of any engagement you are trying to price. It’s important to do your research—through Googling, speaking with others and asking direct questions of the client—before you make your proposal, Iconomopoulos said. And there’s nothing wrong with pausing to do that.
Empower yourself by empowering others.
Iconomopoulos has her MBA and an impressive resume, but the whole reason the author of Say Less, Get More: Unconventional Negotiation Techniques to Get What You Want has the job she does is because she started sharing her stories—including those of discrimination and unfair treatment.
Years ago, Iconomopoulos said, the number of seats at the table for women was so limited that it created a “scarcity mentality.” Women who had reached the top were worried that other women were going to steal their seats.
But why not bring more seats to the table? That’s what you do when you help others succeed in their professional negotiations to reach the top, she said. And it can benefit you, too.
“Because society tells us there’s a reciprocity—when you help someone, they’re going to want to help you, too,” Iconomopoulos said. “And when you do it because you just want to put something good out into the universe, it comes back to you.”
The same principle applies in negotiation, she pointed out. “When you are collaborative and you’re doing something you know is going to help someone, they’re going to try and find ways to go, ‘Oh, well, what can I do that’s going to be valuable to this person?”
Be a victor, not a victim.
In moments when Iconomopoulos has faced toxic environments or outright discrimination, she has had what she calls an out-of-body experience.
“I’m watching it play out and I go, ‘I am not going to allow you to make me a victim in this moment. I am not going to be a victim of my circumstances. I’m not going to be a victim of bias or discrimination,’” she said.
The result, she noted, is that you turn the situation into something positive. You negotiate with the mentality of a victor, and that makes you more likely to be the victor.
“You can channel this victor energy and go, ‘How can I make this a moment to look back on and be so proud of?’ And that builds more moments like that from there,” Iconomopoulos said.
Hear Erin King’s full conversation with Fotini Iconomopoulos in the On Your Terms podcast episode.