I said “no” gracefully

If you remember, I am having a wonderful time with Marta Hurtado, enjoying our weekly inspirational lunch. I have just told her about an uncomfortable professional situation, where an agency was using my offers to be completed by cheaper workforce.

“Yes but there’s more.” I go on.

“There’s more?” Marta inquires. “Do tell me the rest.”

“There was this company who offered me to present sessions about digital marketing. It’s a huge opportunity for me. But when it came to negotiating, right at the very last minute I may add, they brushed the two and a half days preparation promised to me off the table, and offered me an insultingly low fee. People must think that because I’m so busy with lots of different endeavours, that I have no work and that I am desperate to please and accept any crumbs thrown my way.”

I pause to mark the drama of the situation.

“But they got this little lady all wrong.” I exclaim with passion. “My agenda is filled and if they think I have my back up against the wall and no leverage for negotiation, then they have got another thing coming. I told them that I insist on having my two and a half days paid, that I want a decent fee for my sessions, that I only want to do 10 presentations and not a burn-out promise of 18 sessions, and that I will not travel to Ghent and Bruges because it is too far and I have a family life.”

“Yes darling, that’s it.” Marta beams. “You handled that really well. You told them exactly what you want and how you wish to be treated. Don’t take it into your heart now that somebody wanted to do something bad to you. Instead see this as an opportunity you took to assert yourself to the world. That’s amazing!”

“Thanks. Oh I just love your words of wisdom.” I tell her softly. “You’re so re-assuring.”

“Oh no, don’t you do that. Don’t go second-guessing yourself.” Marta reprimands me. “You are not excused. You believe in yourself. No more self-doubt, you are better than that.”

Now they say that a wandering mind is often considered the enemy of mindfulness, but does it have to be? Read on to find out how listening carefully to somebody’s words and observing their consequent actions can help you foster more “aha” moments.

Friday came and went, but although said-company had agreed to my terms over the phone, I still had nothing in writing. The promised contract was nowhere to be seen. All during the weekend I kept looking out like poor Sister Anne, but nothing came. Finally, Sunday evening at 17h I sent a message to Mister CEO, Satan the negotiator and John the search engine guy, saying that no contract meant no conference call on Monday, and no session on Tuesday. I think that was a very clear reminder of what I had told them during the week.

At 18h I receive a reply from Satan the negotiator guy that he had sent me the contract by email. Now I had been checking my mails consistently over the weekend, and knew for sure that it had not arrived. I had even checked my junk email, the spam box, my filters and had pestered the system admin to check the server logs. There just was no mail. So I remain calm and I stay polite when I replied: “I’m sorry but I have not received your email. Please send it to my alternative email addresses.”

So he did. And I received the email and said contract. Ladies, I opened the contract and I read it. Darlings, it is so important to read the contract and to remember the negotiations before. The contract stated clearly the agreed upon rate for the sessions. But it also contained a paragraph describing the work I was contracted for. This clause clearly stated that all preparation and travel expenses were included in the fee.

I mean the nerve! After all the discussions we had had. After all the back and forth and me insisting to be paid as promised for the valuable feedback and hours I had put in it, they thought to brush it off the table again. After all, it was now Sunday evening, the sessions were to start on Tuesday. I again had my back against the wall. Take it or leave it.

To take it would mean to lose my self-respect. To accept to be pushed around by a man. To not be recognised for my valuable expertise. To be treated lesser as a woman. Because if a man stands up for himself in business, then he’s a tough guy, a true business man. If a women does the same, she is immediately coined as a bitch. Sad but true.

Darlings, I felt the dragon stirring within me, as Marta would say. I asked Wim what he thought, and he said: “They’re calling your bluff. They truly think you will accept and that you will jump each time they snap their fingers.”

Calling my bluff? Okay, here’s my bluff. I sent a polite email back stating that I had read the contract and must conclude that it is not in accordance with our agreement. That it doesn’t say that my feedback and preparation will be paid in supplement, but that it is included in my fee. I finished the email by reminding them again that under these terms, we have no deal.

Now normally people would understand that “no deal” means that you are in disagreement and hence, you are unwilling to perform the contract. No, isn’t that what you would understand? I waited for a reaction. But nothing. No return email. No phone call.

The next morning, I went about re-organising my schedule. Eliminating the time I had reserved for the sessions and filling it back in with my trusted loyal clients. I then confirmed my schedule for the coming weeks and informed my clients that I had declined the offer made by the search engine company because they were playing me about in regards to the contract.

Monday morning came and went. No news, no phone call, no email. Monday midday came and when. Same thing. Monday afternoon, Laura called me for the conference call.

“But Laura, I’m surprised you still called me for the follow-up preparations.” I inform her. “I am no longer participating in this project.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Laura exclaims. “We’re starting tomorrow.”

“I would have thought that John would have informed you.” I tell her.

“Now that you mention it, he said something funny this morning when I told him that I was calling you this afternoon.” Laura goes on. “He said you probably wouldn’t have any time for the call. And I remember thinking at the time that that was a funny remark. How would he know whether you have time for the call or not. Why are you falling out?”

“Look, Satan the negotiator guy, is playing me around with the contract.” I inform her. “He was being difficult about paying my preparation work. We discussed it various times over the phone. Finally he agreed, but I have nothing in writing. And when I finally did receive the contract at the end of the weekend, it said I would not be paid for my preparation. What else am I supposed to do? I don’t feel right in this situation, I am not being respected for the expertise I bring to the table. So I prefer to walk away gracefully whilst I still can.”

“I understand.” Laura concedes. “It’s disgraceful really. You worked so hard on the preparations. You’ve got so much experience, you’re a speaker at the GAUC conference every year. You’re also the only one who gave so much feedback, and your feedback was extremely valuable. We really managed to improve the presentations immensely based on what you told us.”

“Oh I’m happy to hear that.” I smile. “I’m sure you’ll make it a wonderful event. Your presentations really look good, you know.”

“Thanks.” Laura replies. “And thanks also for informing me about Satan. I haven’t had to work with them much. But I’ll be sure to pass this on to other freelancers.”

Social comparisons can hold you back from reaching your goals and pursuing what matters to you most. I would just like to point out that your network is so valuable. So stop comparing yourself to others and try to work together nicely.

I finally did get a reaction from Satan the negotiator, and from John the search engine dude. They finally called me somewhere around 18h Monday evening. And please pay attention here ladies, at how men think they can negotiate with us, how they think they can manipulate us and basically boss us around to do things we don’t really agree with.

Also just to remind you, I still have nothing on email. It’s just phone calls. Nothing in writing means your word against theirs. A tacit agreement should always be confirmed by mail. Always.

They were disappointed. No sugar, Sherlock. What are they doing here: playing on my emotions. Men will shout at each other. That doesn’t work with women. If you shout, the pussy runs away. No, they’re giving me the feeling of rejection. That they might not end up liking me. Women hate that. “Oh no, he won’t like me anymore.” Now put your big girl panties on. This is business. Men like women, end of story.

They were surprised to hear that I was no longer participating in the project. They expected me to just show up tomorrow as planned. Seriously? How could they interpret that from an email which clearly states “we have no deal”? I sincerely don’t understand.

But we agreed about your preperation work being paid. Yes, an agreement I would have liked to see at least somewhere in writing. Even a small reply to my email sent Sunday evening, something small saying “yes, yes, you will get paid as agreed for your preparation”. Did I receive such a mail? No, I didn’t. So their word means sugar when the contract clearly says something else.

And then finally, before leaving to yoga just now, I do get a mail. I really did. I got a mail from Satan asking me to send him my invoice for the preparation work. I mean, this is grand. He couldn’t put it in writing before, but now, all of a sudden, he is able to send a mail at 20h in the evening. And he’s being kind and generous. Wait a moment, Colombo finds this suspicious. Men aren’t kind in business. They don’t hand out presents. They don’t all of a sudden realise what they lost and see their mistakes and want to make up for it. They knew well enough at the time that they were misbehaving.

So I replied promptly that Laura had told me my feedback and preparation work was very valuable and that pray he see this as compensation. At that I found that I had said “no” gracefully and could walk away honourably.

Grace and honour are important aspects in all areas of life. Negativity sticks to your brain at conscious and unconscious levels. So before replying or retaliating, take a few minutes to redirect negative thoughts and “take in the good” instead.

“But why did you do that?” Dorothy wails. “You had worked for that money. Satan ought to have paid you for it.”

“Dorothy darling, you sometimes have to read between the lines.” I confide in her. “There are several underlying issues here. For one, he might have wanted to prove their was a tacit agreement and then sue me for breaking our agreement. After all, I had let them down last minute, even if I had warned in writing at various occasions that I only agreed to the schedule if and only if the contract was sorted out. Which it wasn’t.”

“So you were still in your right.” Dorothy continues. “You should have sent him your invoice.”

“Darling, no, it didn’t feel right.” I tell her. “My inner voice was guiding me in another direction. I felt I had to do this.”

“I think you luckily escaped something big there.” Wim pipes up. “That’s my gut feeling.”

“But you don’t believe in gut feeling, darling man.” I tell him.

“So why then?” Dorothy insists.

“I don’t know.” I admit. “Maybe it was honour. Or maybe it’s up for discussion. Maybe Mr. CEO wanted to know why I walked away. We have always had good contact in the past. Maybe Satan needed to prove that he had promised me my preparation work. I don’t know. I just didn’t feel that I could invoice work half done.”

“I just wonder why it all went wrong between you and Satan.” Dorothy ponders.

“I can of course only guess at his motivations for messing me around.” I gaze ahead of me. “But I’ve been here before with him.”

“You have?” Dorothy looks at me incredulously.

“Yes I have.” I remind her. “When I was working for his recruitment company some years ago. I cancelled a contract with the bank some months before starting. He threatened me then that I would have to pay one month’s compensation.”

“He didn’t!” Dorothy exclaims. “How did you get out of that?”

“Simple.” I smile. “I know lots of lawyers. My lawyer asked me if certain articles were included in the contract and then just told me what to reply. And that was that. Maybe he’s still sour grapes about losing that contract three years ago.”

“No, I find that hard to believe.” Dorothy whispers. “Men don’t keep grudges for that long. He would have retaliated earlier.”

“Okay, other option is that he’s upset with me personally.” I offer up.

“Personally?” Dorothy’s eyes are popping now.

“Yes, I had lunch with his wife two or three weeks ago.” I tell her. “And it’s since then that he has been playing up with me.”

“You what?” Is all Dorothy manages to say.

“Exactly like I said.” I go on. “We had lunch together and talked about woolly stuff, like spirituality, and following your personal inner legend. You know, living with purpose and passion.”

“Oh such BS!” Wim interrupts us. “The only reason why they pushed the negotiations so far and treated you this way is simple. They tried it on because you are a woman. This is pure intimidation. And what you escaped is so clear too. You would have run around the entire country getting all stressed out. And at the end of the day, this guy wasn’t going to pay you.”


What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

* Disclaimer : Any resemblance between the fictional characters in this story and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle by chance more than by choice.




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