Mastering Negotiation

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Mastering Negotiation

*New and expanded edition

“A negotiation is an interactive communication process that may take place whenever we want something from someone else or another person wants something from us.”

Negotiation occurs when
one party wants something from another, and there is no gross disparity in bargaining power.

If only one party to a negotiation has all the power, there will be no negotiation; to have a negotiation, all parties have to have some power.

Tyrants and beneficent dictators have all of the power in a relationship; they do not negotiate because they do not have to. People in highly structured top-down organizations, like surgeons or those in the military, never learn to negotiate because they learn to either give orders or take them.

Most of us, however, negotiate through most of our relationships most of the time, whether it be negotiating with our teenage son over use of the car on Saturday night, buying a used couch at a garage sale, or trying to close a multimillion dollar transaction.

Negotiation is a skill.

You can improve any skill, but you cannot perfect it.

Tiger Woods will never play a round of golf and score 18. Roger Federer double-faults. Christina Aguilera forgets the words to the National Anthem.

The way to improve any skill is through study and practice.

Negotiation is unavoidable.

We have two choices: (1) accept the fact that negotiation is a way of life in our culture and improve our skills so that we can negotiate with confidence; or, (2) do nothing about it.

Why would anyone select option (2)? Because they think that anyone can negotiate, that it is simply a matter of common sense?

Arrogance and ignorance is a bad combination.

… most people simply don’t know how to negotiate. Our parents don’t teach us how to negotiate, probably because their parents didn’t teach them how to negotiate. And despite the fact that negotiating is a vital skill, we’re taught nothing about it in school. That leads to the second reason there are so few negotiators: people don’t think it’s possible to learn how to become one. Since we’re not taught how to negotiate we just assume it cannot be taught. The third, and I believe most powerful, reason is fear.2

How does one master the skill of negotiation? Let’s start with some visualization.

This paper will contrast two individuals: the master negotiator (“Master”) and the novice negotiator (“Novice”).

The Master is not someone who works miracles, who can pull off remarkable “swindles” in every case, or who hypnotizes his or her counterparts3 into barking like dogs and doing other things that they would not ordinarily do. The Master is simply demonstratively better than the Novice.

Like a successful baseball player, the Master may not hit a home run every time s/he bats, but s/he has studied and practiced basic principles (or “rules”) until they are second nature, and, therefore, s/he shows up for each negotiation, confident that s/he is well prepared. Novices just show up.

Masters have what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset”: they learn from experience and never stop polishing their skills.

Novices don’t know what they don’t know.

And, after all, isn’t it just common sense?

A Master knows that every negotiation, no matter how serious the subject matter, is a game; every game has rules; and, s/he who follows the rules will be rewarded.

Novices never learn the rules for a successful negotiation, evaluate poorly, become too emotionally invested in their clients, lose professional objectivity, and may sabotage potential agreements.

Generally, the Master has learned them through study and experience; the Novice has not.

These rules that Masters know, however, can be hard to find and even harder to apply in the heat of battle.

What are they, and how do we apply them?

This paper will be divided into three principal components, following the course of a typical negotiation.

I will start with pre-bargaining, address the bargaining stage, then the closure stage, and, finish with some comments on methods for improving your negotiation skills.

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