Dispelling Negotiation Myths
Learn how proper preparation will reveal what a negotiator needs to know to enhance their negotiation style for all their negotiations.
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After Gerard L. Nierenberg authored The Art of Negotiating in 1968. Since then, many books on negotiating followed including the ones I authored or co-authored, Winning the Negotiation, Negotiate the Deal You Want, and The Human Side of Negotiating. However, the message in a lot of the other works was that negotiating was viewed as some sort of a game instead of a process. In fact, one book was entitled The Negotiating Game.
Negotiating is a game
Let’s compare negotiation as a game and a negotiation as a process first before making a decision. A game is designed to have winners and losers, whereas in a negotiation both sides may obtain their individual goals. All games are regulated by rules that determine what players may or may not do, while negotiations have absolutely no rules that govern behaviour or conduct. Furthermore, all games have time limits or provision for overtime in the event it is needed, while negotiations cease when they end regardless of how long it may take. Perhaps we might come up with other dissimilarities, but I believe these three are sufficient to realise that negotiating is definitely not a game … but a process, like life.
Needs and wants are the same
The only reason individuals negotiate is because they have needs and it is through the process they aspire to fulfil them. Therefore, one might state “negotiating is fundamentally a process of satisfying needs.” It is very difficult to attempt to negotiate with someone who does not have needs. If you are unable to create some needs they are unaware they have, you might as well go home and try something else.
For example, I have a very affluent friend who saw an old Victorian home in San Francisco and fell in love with it. He parked in front of the house, walked up and rang the front door bell. An elderly woman opened the door and he presented her one of his business cards and told her he was interested in buying her home. She smiled and told him she was not interested. However, since my friend does not accept “no” in any situation, he persisted to no avail.
For several months afterwards, with the help of several real estate agents, he persisted in his efforts to buy the home without any success, until he finally surrendered. Afterwards, when we sat down for lunch and he told me the whole story, I reminded him of something that I had advised at a business seminar on negotiating I conducted for his company about needs being the cornerstone of all negotiations. And, that if they don’t exist and we can’t create them, we have to “throw in the towel.”
Another very important matter to ponder when negotiating is that “wants” are not “needs.” What a person “wants” and what they “need” are two separate things. I may “want” a newspaper because I “need” to know what is happening in the world. I may “want” a pair of glasses because I “need” vision or “want” to use a drill motor because I “need” to make holes in something. In more than forty years of giving seminars, consulting and writing on the topic of negotiating, I’m still amazed how many negotiators don’t understand the difference between the two.
When negotiating if you want to differentiate the two for purposes of greater understanding, I advise you simply ask this question: “Now that you have told me what you want … what do you really need?” It is totally amazing how individuals will immediately move away from what they said they wanted into areas of more important need. Negotiators as a general rule will always start from the position of what they “want” and are willing to settle for what the truly “need.”
Negotiations conclude with a contract or hand-shake
Another myth is that negotiations end when individuals shake hands or sign agreements or contracts. In a lot of situations, that’s when “post-negotiations” begin … that’s a period when for example sellers don’t comply with the terms and conditions of the agreement and buyers have to sit down with the sellers to discuss the reasons for their contract negotiation non-compliance. This appears to occur more often with labour-management negotiations.
Aggressive negotiator superiority
A myth I discovered very early in my career was the belief that a very aggressive competitive negotiator tended to be the most productive. In truth, the overly aggressive negotiator is not as productive merely because of human nature. “The tougher the tactics … the tougher the resistance!” Those negotiators who attempt to use force, intimidation; manipulation, etc. appear to bring out the greatest resistance and the least amount of cooperation and support from others. In my early days of negotiating with sub-contractors in the Aero Space Industry I had a boss who was able to manage a curmudgeon at the negotiating table with his wit and charm. Afterwards, he told me “a little bit of sugar goes a long way in a negotiation.” The only occasion I truly saw an overly aggressive negotiator succeed was a large powerfully built man who participated in an arm wrestling contest that decided which side would win the last piece of pie in the negotiation.
And then there is the myth concerning preparation. Although there is no substitute for being well prepared before a negotiation, it does not necessarily ensure the outcome. The primary reason for this is because preparation is only the foundation, not the goal itself. On several occasions I’ve confidently entered into negotiations with the belief that “all the bases had been covered.” And nothing had been left to chance. In other words, there could not possibly be any surprises … and yet there were. Later, we realised our preparation efforts were not at fault, it was assumptions and perceptions we made. Furthermore, what a negotiator works on very diligently during the negotiation preparation phase is the questions they will ask, and when they will ask them. But sometimes we fail to understand some questions may open a “hornet’s nest” and people respond in a very angry and defensive manner to something they believed was inappropriate or long ago buried. Also, in your preparation don’t assume that someone on the other side who was very cooperative and helpful in a previous negotiation will perform the same role. I can’t tell you how many “Dr. Jekyll” and “Mr. Hyde” persons I’ve meet.
When negotiators prepare they spend most of their time discussing history (yesterday) the present (today) and the future (tomorrow): I refer to these three different time frames as a “cancelled check” (yesterday), “cash” (today), and “a promissory note” (tomorrow). Whether we like it or not, all three have noteworthy influence on what takes place during a negotiation. But despite how well a person might be prepared, they will never take into consideration the variety of possibilities that may occur during the course of the negotiation. Therefore, I truly believe the best negotiator is the one who not only does their homework well, but also can think on “their feet” very well and respond to situations and questions well. There are two tactics that have worked very well for me in such situations. The first one I call “the agent of limited authority,” that’s when you assert that you’re unable to take a position or agree to something without concurrence from someone else in the organisation. And if everyone realises you have the authority and you can’t use the tactic, then you use what I call “the agent of limited knowledge:” This is when you defer because you need more information from your marketing, engineering or manufacturing staff before you are able to concur.
First concession weakness
And the final myth is one that has been promulgated for so many years that it has regrettably become an established belief to many negotiators. It has been stated in this manner … “the negotiator that makes the first concession displays weakness”. Whereas, in reality the one making the first negotiation concession shows confidence not only in their ability to make it, but also in setting the stage for receiving a compromise in return. And if none is forthcoming, establishing “goodwill” in the negotiation by virtue of having made the first positive gesture in the process. Because negotiating is a “give-get” process, one should never be afraid of being the first to present such an overture to another party. Ultimately, the objective is to “get” as much as one “gives” and hopefully more if one has conducted the process well.
Negotiation Expert note: we counsel clients on our Sales Negotiation Training in particular to be careful not to ‘give’ away anything of high value to the buyer early in the negotiations without gaining something of high value in return.
My hope in writing this article is that negotiators will consider the foregoing myths and in doing so, evaluate if perhaps they have overlooked something in the past that might help them in the future.
Henry H. Calero is President of C-M Associates.