Posted by: malstott | October 21, 2013

Negotiate Already!

negotiating-tactic-0319131Go to bed…NOW.
But Mom, I’m watching my show. Let me stay up til its done. Pulleeeease?
Only if you brush your teeth and put on your p.j.s and go to bed immediately afterwards.

If you have kids you have had this conversation or one like it. We learn to negotiate at an early age. We push for what we want and we compromise. We don’t always get our way but we get to a reasonable endpoint. Why is it that as adults we forget some of these skills? Perhaps we understand the complexities of giving in. What if others consider me weak? What if it is a slippery slope and I have to give in every time? What if I don’t get elected the next time?

Our government shut down for 16 days and the impact was felt around the world.  Bay Area Rapid Transit’s (BART)  management and labor can’t reach an agreement so this week will be a living hell for thousands of people working in and around San Francisco. And as proof that everything happens in sets of three, I am currently working on a negotiation between companies trying to settle an asset purchase. While we have a tentative agreement, the process of settling has bruised some feelings and has set the relationship back a few steps. In all of these examples, negotiation is difficult and impacts people now and into the future. Surely we can improve.

Sun Tsu, the ancient Chinese warrior chief said, “If you know the enemy and you know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” Let’s start with this precept and build on it.

  1. Humbly Listen – Know the other side’s point of view. Listening to the other side fully will position you to hear and know their perspective. Don’t assume that you know. Listen as if you know nothing. Try to gain their perspective. Reflect this back in the discussion. “What I hear you saying is that you believe that your current wage is unfair given your level of training and contribution made.”
  2. Clearly understand your musts and wants – Know yourself. Know what is a must and know what is a want and what your priorities are. If you are working in a company, this will involve talking with others about the critical financial and strategic issues. What is driving the top-level decisions in the company? Is it a balance sheet problem or is the bottom line what is the most critical? Can we trade-off in the short-term for a long-term benefit? Are there other “gives” that could be brought forward from other functional groups in order to sweeten the deal?
  3. Gather the facts – What is your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement? (BATNA) If it is strong you have more power in the negotiation. If the alternative to a negotiated solution is a government shutdown, perhaps you should be showing up ready to compromise and agree. Know what the costs, risks and organizational impacts are to the alternatives before you. Do the work to be prepared with information that can be logically offered in discussion.
  4. Consider who is boss – As a kid, we knew who was boss. Maybe Mom was the one who didn’t fool around. You can push back with Dad and likely you could get your way but if Mom told you enough was enough, you didn’t dare argue back. In a business negotiation it is usually clear who has the upper hand. If you have taken care to complete steps one through three you know where the power lies and you understand the other side’s position as thoroughly as your own. That understanding includes knowing who is in charge and where the decision-making power lies.
  5. Strategize apart from the discussion – Don’t hesitate to take a break from any negotiation. If you are feeling rushed or pressured to close, you will likely compromise where you don’t need to. That doesn’t mean that you should take your time and not push the work forward. Some pressure is good for both sides. But if you want time to step back with your team to consider a compromise, to gather some facts, to get agreement with management…take it.
  6. Be willing to compromise – As children we understood this concept. I could usually get some, but not all of what I wanted. If I gave a little I was likely to get closer to what I wanted. We are creative as kids to throw in lots of ideas to get closer to a “yes”. We will go to bed early tomorrow. We will clean our rooms. We will love you forever. These “chits” are bargaining power and using them works to get to a win-win. As adults we need to have the same creative thought process when negotiating. What can be proposed that will cost little to you but means more to the other party? Is there a way to give something without losing the full value? Is a deal worth more than standing on principle? Will I be considered successful if I get to a compromised solution in a reasonable time?
  7. Don’t take a hard-line position ahead of the negotiation – This is wise for any negotiation anywhere. Don’t announce a “nonnegotiable” ahead of time.  Remember the Bush Sr. line, “Read my lips. No new taxes.”  Or more recently, Obama’s statement that “A redline for us is the use of chemical weapons”. It is much wiser to directionally declare your intentions but not put hard lines down…unless it really is a REAL deal breaker. If there is absolutely no way to move on something then a declaration will make the negotiation move more quickly but be sure that it is really a deal breaker and not a political stand. Politics don’t just happen in the government. This is a mistake made in business and in relationships all of the time. Remember the Mom line, “If you do that one more time, you are grounded for a year.” Credibility is shot.
  8. Consider the long run – Style is important. If you shout, threaten or insult you are likely to damage the long-term relationship. That has value and it is equivalent to giving up something in the negotiation. Emotional displays will not move the ball forward. On the other hand, a persuasive, heart-felt argument can help. There is a fine line between heart-felt and hammer-blow. Consider the audience and react appropriately. If you are dealing with someone comfortable with confrontation it could work to raise your voice while making a point. If you are talking with someone from a culture of saving face or are talking with a shy and quiet person, then keep your voice steady and calm. Match your opponent.
  9. Walk away as partners – Negotiations don’t last that long (unless you work for BART) and relationships have a much longer runway. Respecting one another in a negotiation is key to a long-term partnership. If you step over a boundary in the heat of a discussion, apologize. Recognize the people on the other side of the table as partners and consider what the consequences are of the deal you negotiate. If you beat your opponent but the deal that is in place cripples them or drives them away, you haven’t gained much. Visualize the end state that you need for mutual long-term success.

And as Sun Tsu said a long time ago, The supreme art of war is to subdue your enemy without fighting.



  1. Marcy, nice article. I’m covering negotiation in my graduate class this week. I especially like point 4, respecting who has the power and positional edge

  2. You = one talented young lady!  Good luck to you, Ms Negotiator!    mom xo    Barb& Russ Phillips 

  3. Nice work ! You are getting better and better A good gutty post keep going. Love,DAD

    Sent from my iPad

  4. Another awesome post thank you for sharing Hugs and love to you


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