You go to your principal with a great project in mind. They turned you down. What do you do next? If you are like many, you shrug your shoulders, tear up your plan, and complain to other librarians about how the administration doesn’t support libraries. There is another way. In these situations, “no” doesn’t always mean “no.” It may mean “not that way” or “not yet.” To turn the “no” into a “yes,” you need to know how to negotiate. This means being aware of what you want, why you want it, and how it will benefit not only your library but others as well.

Two examples from my past illustrate this point. Working in a district where they spent as little as possible on education, I wanted to purchase what was then the latest in technology – a CD tower that allowed multiple access to several databases now available digitally. The cost was about $20,000. Rather than submit it in my budget where it would be turned down immediately, I went to my Superintendent. I explained to her why the purchase was important and proposed I cut from other places in my budget to make up for the cost. I also highlighted benefits to students. I got the tower and didn’t have to make up all the money from cuts because the Superintendent knew if I purchased it, I would use it.

In the second case, in a different district, a new Superintendent visiting the library envisioned a major renovation project. I was on board with that and contacted a vendor I had seen at a conference. In 24 hours, I had a projected quote. It was much higher than the Superintendent expected. I went back to the vendor letting them know my challenges if they wanted to work with me. One day later, I had a proposal for the project with the costs to be spread over three years. The renovation went forward, and the Superintendent saw me as a valuable person on the team who could get things done.

Knowing how to negotiate pays. Before putting yourself into this situation, check with a mentor, your PLN or favorite social media group for support and encouragement from your peers. They understand the challenges and needs you face. Greg Williams gives the following practical advice to Negotiate Better: How to Increase Your Leadership Skills:

  • Plan for negotiation – You plan for the project, but you also need to plan your “Ask.” Williams says these are the needed steps:
    • What-if scenarios – Life happens. You see that the principal is not in the best of moods. Or they are busy and want you to meet with the assistant principal. Pushing through with how you planned your presentation of the project won’t work. Reschedule or use an alternate approach depending on what you think would work best. But be prepared.
    • Know when to make offers and counteroffers – In both my scenarios, understanding the parameters of others was necessary so we could make compromises. Be open to suggestions;p know what you are and aren’t prepared to give up.
    • Control emotions – Keep a positive mindset throughout. You don’t want to show frustration or anger. Show that you can handle it if you’re turned down. Remember – “no” can be temporary but being negative can leave a lasting impression.
    • Control the environment – The time and day of your meeting matters. You don’t want to do it on a Monday when the week’s crises are beginning, and you may not want a Friday afternoon when thoughts are on the weekend. Summer is my favorite time when administrators are creating their plans for the coming year, but Thursday after school can be another good choice.
    • The value of reading body language in negotiations – It’s like a “tell” in poker. Watch for attitude changes showing interest or impatience. Williams suggests you notice hand gestures, voice tonality and intonation, and shifting physical position. By being attuned to these silent communications, you can adjust what and how you continue with your presentation.

When it’s over, make time to reflect and review what happened. Did you get what you wanted or most of it? Think about what worked and what you could have done better. How has this negotiation affected your principal’s perception of you as a librarian and a leader? And when negotiation gets you what you wanted – don’t forget to celebrate.


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