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Stop Negotiating – It Doesn’t Work

Stop Negotiating

Negotiation isn’t all it’s cracked-up to be. In fact, I believe negotiation to be an inherently flawed business practice. Negotiation is not an art to be mastered, rather it’s a sloppy approach to be avoided. While many a consultant, author and trainer have made personal fortunes teaching the finer points of negotiation, it is my belief they have accomplished little more than to create legions of inept business people who view themselves as being much more savvy than they actually are. If you’re truly interested in becoming more sophisticated and effective in your approach to reaching an agreement, then I would suggest you replace your tendencies to negotiate with something more substantive…

Conventional Wisdom
There are many who would say negotiation is just part of doing business, and that you cannot be successful as a leader without becoming a great negotiator. Conventional thinking would have you believe that to be a skilled negotiator is to be held in high esteem in the world of business, and in some circles, is worn as a proud badge of honor. It would lead you to further believe if you possess a reputation as a shrewd negotiator, then you would certainly be feared in the boardroom as an adversary to be reckoned with.

Reality
WAKE UP – please don’t tell me you’ve fallen for the ego-centric propaganda supported by conventional wisdom. True wisdom is rarely conventional, nor does it encourage being a bad actor in a charade. If you find yourself negotiating you are likely doing little more than posturing, spinning, manipulating, being slick, and perhaps even deceitful. Negotiation by its nature is a zero-sum game (my gain is your loss). In other words, the goal at the outset of a negotiation is to benefit from someone else’s loss, which should be an unacceptable premise for doing business. If your goal is to be feared, to take advantage of a person/situation/circumstance, or to manipulate an outcome to meet your needs, then you may be many things, but a leader is not one of them.

Win-Win Scenarios Do Exist – But Only If You Look for Them
Sure, there are those who say “win-win” scenarios are altruistic fantasies that don’t exist, but I’m here to tell you all good agreements are in fact win-win scenarios. Negotiation is adversarial, and savvy leaders focus on expanding relationships and spheres of influence, not shrinking them by creating enemies. When you’ve concluded an agreement with someone, wouldn’t it be better to have them be excited about doing business with you again, as opposed to spending hours in reflective thought regretting the day they met you? When I hear someone reminisce about the great deal they just negotiated all I can think of is, will the deal stick, and even if it does get traction, what about the bad taste left in the mouth of the other party? While it may seem tempting to exploit the immediacy of a situation or circumstance, the long-term consequences of such actions are detrimental to your reputation and credibility.

The Solution
So, if you don’t negotiate what do you do? Try engaging in meaningful conversation – one where you listen more than you speak. Negotiations look for a victory, while good discussions look to create opportunities for others, to add-value, to align interests, to understand needs, to facilitate, enable, educate, mentor, and inform. Smart leaders influence rather than negotiate. They seek the correct outcomes rather than just seeking to win. Conversations are not competitions – you don’t win them, but you should enrich them. Don’t be lazy and trick somebody just because you’re smart and you can, rather be a professional, do your homework and help people attain their goals & objectives.

I don’t know about you, but I know how it feels when someone is “negotiating” with me vs. how it feels when someone is having a “discussion” with me. They are not one in the same, and the latter is definitely preferable over the former. Think about it like this – you cannot lose a negotiation you don’t become a party to. When a one sided negotiation is taking place the other party cannot prevail as they are simply negotiating against themselves. Don’t get sucked into the flawed logic that negotiation is a tool for the powerful – it’s not.

What say you?

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    Balveerchandrawat

    July 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Rightly said mike ,leaders who can not influence get involve in nagotiation which is actually my win ur loss situation.
    Your articles are great help to me as individual ,it helps me to grow as leader coz I have been promoted by my organisation but I got training from your articles.

    Thanks

    Balveer

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      Mike Myatt

      July 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks for the comment, and congratulations on your promotion Balveer. 

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    Wilburson

    July 17, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Recently I accepted an invitation to bid a job.  At the conclusion of my presentation I told the man (a foreigner) that we could do the job for $125 per month.  He began his negotiation by asking me if I could go lower.  I hemmed and hawwed for a while and then said that I thought we could do it for $105 a month (but wasn’t happy about the prospect now).  Before it was over, he then asked me to go down to $100 a month.  I thought, I’m $5 a month away from this deal, and if it proves to be a lousy deal we can just extricate ourselves from it.  I never signed an agreement, and the truth is, he shot himself in the foot, because I don’t really care now if we lose the service.

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    Opsman

    July 18, 2012 at 8:37 am

    While I agree with the premise of the article, I think it pegs “negotiation” into a framework that is not true. Negotiation by definition is a discussion. The problem is people perceive negotiation as negative. It’s not. The best negotiations will be discussions, in business, many of which focus on the extraction of value from both firms. In negotiations, the framework is typically set by the type of relationship: i.e. car sales versus say Fortune 500 office supply sales. Car sales negotiations, and others such as real estate, generally tend to be more win-lose and adversarial because the outcome is time specific and only occurs once. While other sales, i.e. office supply to large firms, tends to focus more on building a relationship that can be leveraged (what can you do for me?).

    A similar argument can be made about having a “discussion”. Discussing is all fine and dandy, but sooner or later you likely need to close a deal. Talking tea for the argument of keeping a conversation going can be equally as wasteful as failing to recognize what to “negotiate”. Hence the problem with lawyers. It’s in their best interest to keep an argument going. Is that good?

    My perspective is negotiation is a good thing. I would rather not label it as bad. When that happens, your points dovetail quite nicely into what makes a good negotiation.

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      Hassen Morad

      July 18, 2012 at 4:24 pm

       Agree with all your points. Both parties have to eventually come to an agreement somehow. But maybe what Mr. Myatt was emphasizing more was the means of arriving at that agreement. Some people unfortunately do it without any manners and try to chisel the other side down to the bone. This is extreme negotiation and reflects greed and selfishness.

      However, if a person shows respect to the other party in the way they communicate and considers their benefit as well, then that’s still negotiation but with a sense of decency.

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      Karuna Juoda

      July 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      There’s a great book called “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”, by Roger Fisher and William Ury, that discusses what typically happens in negotiations (win-lose) and how to get to a win-win agreement. I would love to see more win-win attitudes when it comes to negotiating.

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        Carl @ Knowva Cnsltg

        July 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm

        On Twitter, people seem to use #winwin to mean double-win for them. How do you feel about this term being co-opted and this new definition being so popular?

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    Carl @ Knowva Cnsltg

    July 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Hi Mike,

    I love this article! So many parts of it I want to pull out and tweet like:

    –  “If your goal is to be feared, to take advantage of a
    person/ situation/ circumstance, or to manipulate an outcome to meet your
    needs, then you may be many things, but a leader is not one of them.” Ouch! That’s good.

    – “Negotiation is adversarial, and savvy leaders focus on expanding
    relationships and spheres of influence, not shrinking them by creating
    enemies.” Better to build than anything else. We have always built community to survive and business survives or thrives within our communities.

    – “Conversations are not competitions – you don’t win them, but you should enrich them.” Competition is good for many things but building and enriching life is better.

    Thanks for your insightful voice.

    Cheers,
    Carl

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      Mike Myatt

      July 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks Carl. I appreciate the kind words Sir. 

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    Anonymous

    July 19, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    You’ve got some good points, but “negotiation” is used too broadly here. Getting To Yes and similar books teach the art of “Principled Negotiation,” which I’ve found to be win/win, fair for all, and relationship-building.

    Traditional negotiation: you’re dead right.

    Principled negotiation: Not zero-sum, positive, win/win, best handled as a “discussion” for mutual discovery.

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      Mike Myatt

      July 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      Hi Kevin:

      I agree the term “principled” has everything to do intent, process and outcome when it comes to negotiation. Thanks for bringing out this point. 

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    Ingo Holzinger

    July 20, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Sorry, but this is one of the weakest postings I’ve seen from you. You claim that “[n]egotiation is adversarial”, which is a very narrow and biased definition of the concept (“Negotiation by its nature is a zero-sum game (my gain is your loss”). Negotiating is commonly defined as “the process of conferring with another or others in order to come to terms or reach an agreement.” The focus is on agreement, not beating the other party.  An effective negotiator will recognize negotiating is not necessarily distributive (zero-sum game; dividing the pie), but can be creative and productive, creating win-win situations in the process.

    It’s not the process of negotiating that’s flawed; it’s overly reductive definitions like the one you chose to apply here.

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      Mike Myatt

      July 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      Hi Ingo:

      Thanks for sharing your observations. I would say my perspective isn’t narrow and biased, but is a result of experiencing interactions with those who don’t share your definitional distinctions. I would suggest our views aren’t far apart at all with regard to how we go about reaching an agreement. I would conclude from your comment that if we were to engage in a discussion it would be one based on civil discourse and not adversarial intent. However, our understanding of the process of reaching an agreement has been replaced as the norm by the masses of those who don’t possess your skill and resort to brute force, intimidation, and other forms of manipulation. 

      With regard to commonly accepted definitions, that was precisely the reason this post was authored. My perspective wasn’t put forth in an attempt to preach to the choir, but written in attempt to reach those who don’t understand the concept of “win-win.”

      Lastly, I would suggest looking at the origin of a word is important in understanding actual meaning. The word negotiation comes from the Latin negotiatio which comes from the root “neg” (not or to deny). History is fairly clear the shift from doing business to bargaining about business first took place in Latin.   

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        Ingo Holzinger

        July 22, 2012 at 11:43 am

        Thanks for your thoughtful response.  I agree… we’re not too far apart in our conception of an effective process of reaching an agreement. And fair enough that you attempted to reach those who don’t want to understand the concept of “win-win”.  I just don’t think that goal is effectively accomplished by trashing the concept of ‘negotiating’. If it’s an overly narrow mindset you want to change, shouldn’t you address that mindset rather than the concept that’s misunderstood?
        By the way, I do believe that you’re wrong about the meaning of the Latin origin of the word negotiation. While the word does come from the Latin ‘negotiatio’ and ‘neg’ does mean not, ‘otium’ means ‘leisure’. Hence, in its Latin origin, negotiation has nothing to do with ‘denying’, but simply means ‘not leisure’ or in other words ‘doing business’.  The word does not imply an adversarial relationship between the (negotiation or business) partners.

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    Melanie Bigalke

    July 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for the article, I found it thought-provoking. I linked to it and use some quotes on my blog, Only Connect. You can find it here: http://mmbigalke.wordpress.com/

    Thanks! 

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    Diane Freaney

    July 23, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    I have been noodling all day about a situation in which I have been “invited” to negotiate.  After reading your post, I have decide to discuss the issue, find a win-win situation or fire the client.  Negotiation is a control tool.  I am not going to be controlled.
    Thanks for this post.  

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    Jessica

    August 3, 2012 at 1:39 am

    According to your description Mike; somehow I
    agree with you but negotiation is not actually my win your loss. Discussion could
    be on any topic whilst whenever there occurs any issue there held negotiation
    to sort that out. Negotiation is to resolve problems, it’s not concern of ego. 

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    Ola Sunmola

    January 8, 2013 at 6:31 am

    this is a great article…i recently reevaluated my thinking cos of a recent failure i had in a managerial position..people are usually smarter than you think..they expect negotiation..and are prepared to counter and if possible thwart your schemes,negotiation often promotes distrust and may stymie a potentially..profitable relationship..your win-win approach throws ur the other of his game..cos its least expected..secures trust and openness..essential traits for any successful business relationship..in business dealings..even if we cant ensure a win-win from a solely cash perspective..we can on a “use perspective”..giving someone more in use value than we get in cash value…

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