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On Negotiating

A smart guy once told me to remember, “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.” I’ve kept that nugget loaded into RAM since the time I first heard it.

Recently I was working through the details on a biz item and the other party said, “I wasn’t expecting a negotiation.” My reaction to the comment was thinking, “Well then, how would either party end up getting what they needed?”

Negotiating is a matter of articulating your facts, values and needs and attempting to find if and where your and the other party’s “brackets” overlap.

Another great stolen nugget I’ve heard is, “Smart people typically make the same decisions, granted they are operating off the same facts”. To me that means, you have to share your supporting arguments. Objective is always better than subjective. It’s hard for another party to quantify or value what you feel.

Sometimes you get there, and sometimes you don’t, but keeping communication open, sharing facts and maintaining forward momentum are a better strategy than sandbagging, obfuscating, leveraging deadlines or using false time constraints.

Everything in life is a negotiation and that’s not a bad thing. I’d say I’m neutral on the subject and don’t chase opportunities to be a “deal guy”. I know some who relish the battle, but I get more joy from getting people to engage and help build whatever I’m energized about vs trying to outmaneuver them.

That said, I especially dislike combative negotiating. I find when it’s adversarial, zero sum or “old school” it drains my energy the most.

I had this same conversation with a far more deal-experienced friend of mine recently and he agreed with my sentiment, but also acknowledged that combative negotiations are much less painful when you are not emotionally involved or you are working on someone else’s deal. He was a lawyer in his previous life. Makes sense.

That said, in my own dealings, I’d much rather share a collective win and constructively find the middle. Sometimes, I even find myself skipping a negotiating round to highlight a potential middle in an effort to close more quickly. Sometimes it’s appreciated, but in combative situations, it’s always a waste. I’ve found that it usually results in lost ground and lost leverage.  Be careful about highlighting the middle too soon if you know the other party has no incentive to win together.

When a deal is lopsided, it’s typically a short-term win at the expense of potential longer-term value or relationship. The best outcomes usually leave both parties feeling good about the mutual upside and the sharing of the value created or captured.

Lastly, the most important part of any negotiation is knowing what you actually need before you enter the dance. I’ve seen that so many times and have been guilty of it as well. Deals don’t get done (or blow up) until someone says, “No”. Know where your baseline is. Know where your “bracket” ends. Don’t be bashful about saying “No” if you need to. It’s a great tool for getting a deal done or at least saving a ton of wasted time.

Remember, hope is not a strategy. Things don’t magically happen or work out on their own. For the big things and all the little things as well, you will only get what you negotiate.

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