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6 Questions with Professional Speaker and Negotiation Expert, Fotini Iconomopoulos

by Sarah Said

As a negotiation consultant, professional speaker, and educator, Fotini Iconomopoulos does it all.

Since graduating from York University’s Schulich School of Business in 2005—where she now works as a sessional instructor—Iconomopoulos has grown her career immensely.

Today, she works for herself and shares her experiences and advice to younger professionals, particularly women, looking to grow their skills.

Though Iconomopoulos originally resisted the entrepreneurial path (having seen the lifestyle first-hand growing up in a family of self-starters) she quickly found herself taking her career into her own hands. She was no longer enjoying the consulting role she’d done for a few years and decided it was time to leave.

“It was my clients who actually encouraged me to go down the entrepreneurial path,” Iconomopoulos revealed. “They kept calling me for months asking me when I was going to go back and help them and I told them I don’t work for that company anymore to which they said well we didn’t hire them, we hired you.”

After a few months of hiatus following her departure from the company, she decided to do a favour for a friend that eventually turned into many. “I thought I’d do it until I get a real job but it turned into one,” she said. “I’ve really been taking it seriously as an entrepreneur for the last little while and hopefully there is a lot more cool stuff to come.”

When asked what she’s learnt while coaching others, Iconomopoulos confessed she believes she’s never done learning. “I especially love teaching Master of Business Administration (MBA) students because they challenge me all the time,” she added. “They ask all sorts of questions I haven’t thought of or haven’t been in the loop about for awhile and dispute some of the academic thinking I present. I like it because it forces me to do more analytical thought behind things.”

Albeit everyone faces challenges throughout their career, Iconomopoulos said she is not a person who lives with regrets. “If I could take away some of the stress from my younger self I probably would,” she remarked. “But from the same token it is one of my drivers, so I don’t know if I would be where I am if that wasn’t the case.” While Iconomopoulos currently has a number of projects in motion—including writing a book—she admits she has no clue where she will be in 10 years. “The truth is I have zero idea,” she explained. “I didn't even know where I would find myself six months from now or six months ago.”

That being said, she hopes to continue to be doing the same kind of work she is currently involved in. “I recently told somebody even if I wont the lottery I would still be doing this,” she laughed. “I love speaking, sharing wisdom with people who find it useful, and seeing people empowered after they come out of one of my talks. So hey, if you all will have me I’d love to just keep on keeping on what I’m already doing.”

1. What has inspired you to speak, empower, and help other women with their careers? I went through some pretty unfortunate circumstances at a former employer. Some discrimination and harassment took place and I ended up attracting a lot of women who were asking me for advice. I was in a male dominated field, which meant I was always surrounded by male clients and colleagues. I guess I was sort of a role model for some of my female clients, so when they were asking me for advice it just became a natural progression for me to guide them so that they didn’t go through what I went through. I started dissecting the things I was doing that got me out of difficult circumstances and approaching others to do the same.

2. Do you have any advice for women who also want to pursue speaking and consulting in the future? Get lots of practice wherever you can. If you have value you think you could share with the world, that is amazing. Find opportunities to exercise your skills and start sharing that value. Whether it is through posts on LinkedIn, in videos, or a non-profit group (which I love working with because they don’t necessarily have the budget to hire people but it doesn’t mean they are any less deserving), grow your exposure. The truth of the matter is, if people find what you are sharing valuable they will continue to invite you back. I didn’t end up intentionally trying to be a speaker, it just happened because I wanted to share my knowledge with folks.

3. What are some negotiation tactics that you feel work and don't work for you? The tactic that doesn’t necessarily work for me and I don’t think works for a lot of people is the combative type of “banging your first on the table” strategy. I don’t think it is effective. Maybe in the very short term, but when you have to deal with that person again or have a reputation via that person it doesn’t work very well. What I do think works better is building a relationship—even if it is a teeny tiny one or 30 seconds before you make a deal! Simply asking someone how their day is going makes people really want to do business with you and want to try to find a way to give you what you want. So relationship building, even a micro one, is a tactic that is extremely effective.

4. What is your recommendation when negotiations are stalled and not going in the direction originally anticipated? One of the most underestimated skills in negotiation is asking great questions. If you feel like it is getting stalled, ask a question like, “Help me understand what are the things holding us back?” or, “Of the things we have discussed, which is the biggest priority for you?” Have some of these questions ready. If you know there is a chance something could go wrong, then why not have a few in your back pocket. The questions don’t necessarily need to be customized for every situation—there are some you can have in a file in the back of your mind for emergencies. Also, before you go into a negotiation you need to establish some boundaries, like figuring out the lowest and highest you will be willing to go. What can you live with? What is your worst case scenario? Hopefully you don’t have to go there, but always know how far you can compromise before going in. I ask myself, “If I walk away from this, what regrets am I going to have?” or, “What is going to make me regret this the least?” I need to know I can sleep at night afterwards.

5. What are three tips you can give to women hoping to develop their negotiating abilities? First: get your head in the game and recognize you are capable of negotiating. You do it all the time, especially if you are often around kids or pets. Have the courage to step up and give it a shot. Second: practice. Practice with a friend and find opportunities to negotiate. Call your telecom company and tell them you’re thinking of leaving and want to change your plan, go to a flea market and start negotiating for stuff there, go to a car dealership and get some practice for the next time you’re thinking of buying one. Third: plan for the worst. What is the worst that could possibly happen? You’re going to get a no? They are going to say I don’t know if I can do that right now? They are going to say maybe? Are they going to threaten to throw you out of their office? Consider what each of those worst-case scenario moments look like and plan your way out of it. If you get a no, have a question ready. If they threaten to kick you out of the office, ask when is the best time to talk again.

6. What would you say is one of the most important things to keep in mind when dealing with a high-stake scenario?

The most important thing is preparation. When you get in there and you are feeling really nervous and uncomfortable you will have to be able to press the pause button to remind yourself you are ready for this and you know what you are doing. It is going to feel tough no matter what but it is actually going to be tougher if you haven’t done the work beforehand. When it comes to determining the best time to approach someone, it all depends on the other party. If you can sense somebody is in a terrible mood that may not be the best time to go in but if you can put them in a good mood and take control of the situation then maybe it’s the perfect moment. Take into account if they are a morning or afternoon person or if they are really busy or coming off a bad circumstance and you’re the tenth person whose asked them for something. I would pay attention to those little clues. Go in with a smile on your face, ask them how they’re doing, and put them in a positive headspace.

See Fotini's interview on How To Negotiate Your Salary

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