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Negotiation: Learn the skill


Yhandshakeou will not go far in your career without learning negotiating skills. Daniel Pink wrote “To Sell is Human” and in there he defines selling as moving a person from one position to another. Deepak Malhotra in his book “Negotiating the Impossible” defines negotiation as the process by which two or more parties who perceive a difference in interests or perspective attempt to reach an agreement.

I read an interesting Bloomberg blog recently by Jim Camp titled “Business Schools Teach Negotiating Tactics that Don’t Work.” 

He states that most of these tactics make the mistake of assuming any agreement is better than no agreement.  We’ve said at EMA for years that there are worse things than failing to land a project, and that’s getting a project you shouldn’t have.

Camp makes a great point that no one should come to the negotiating table with preconditions, assumptions, or expectations for gaining agreement.  The smart negotiator recognizes that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

I heard a Montgomery Ward executive speak many years ago about his experience as a young manager trainee.  The store sold a wood heater to an elderly couple, the stove malfunctioned and caused damage to their home.

The senior management assumed the worst, thinking the couple wanted an exorbitant amount of money or settlement.  They sent the young trainee out there, and he asked the question no one else had bothered to ask: “what would you like us to do?”

He was surprised to hear them say, that they just wanted their carpet replaced in the room with the stove.  This reiterates Camp’s point.

How do you learn what you don’t know?  Very simple, you ask questions.

This isn’t to say that you don’t prepare for negotiations, but your research is to help the negotiator ask the right questions, not to instill assumptions.

The best questions are open ended what, how, and why questions.

Deepak Malhotra suggests that you negotiate process before substance.  Many of us have had the frustration of a long negotiation only to have the other person say, “well, I have to get my boss’ approval.’ We thought he WAS the boss.  It’s imperative that you understand and negotiate the process before getting to that position.

Selling to the wrong person is a time honored sales mistake, and it should be avoided.  You should clarify and reach agreement on the path to a decision.

Peter Bourke in his book “Un-Selling: Sell less and win more” suggests that you clearly understand the time factor.  Many negotiators and sales people will ask “when do you plan to make a decision on this project,” and then just accept what is said.  Bourke suggests asking a followup question, “what bad things will happen if you don’t make a decision by that date?”

If the answer is, in essence, “nothing,” then that’s not a real deadline.

Negotiation:  You’d better get skilled at it.