Successful negotiation occurs when two parties reach agreement and each believes they got more than the other one.
The big news last week was the tentative agreement between the United States (along with Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China) and Iran dealing with limiting its ability to develop nuclear weapons. Consistent with the typical diplomatic process, this is not actually an agreement at all, but simply an agreement to reach an agreement.
One of the reasons the negotiations to achieve an agreement have been so protracted and cantankerous is because many Iranians continue to be truculent in their ongoing distrust of American intentions. It can’t be that after some 50 years, the Iranians are still belligerent because the American government instigated a coup to overthrow the last democratically elected leader of Iran and replaced him with the brutally despotic Shah of Iran—just so America could assure a flow of cheap oil. Or that America supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran that killed almost 500,000 Iranians. (Did they forget that America turned on Hussein and killed him?)
Of course, reaching any agreement has been difficult from an American perspective too. Many American political leaders believe that by taking American hostages, supporting the Shiites in Iran and generally opposing American interests in the region that the Iranians totally overreacted to America interference with their internal affairs, and as a result, they can’t be trusted.
This background is mentioned only to make the point that, given this mutual distrust, it is remarkable that the two sides could sit at the same negotiation table, let alone reach a substantive agreement. What is telling about the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran is that, when it was announced, the perpetually petulant conservative right-wing factions in both the United States and Iran vociferously condemned the deal. This means that it is probably an equitable arrangement for everyone else.
Despite the rancorous puerile actions of our fractious political leaders, there is a lesson to learn here when it comes to negotiating any issue. Even in situations where there is deep mutual enmity and barely a scintilla of trust present, it is possible to reach an equitable agreement. That is, so long as positive principles of negotiating are used.
Where True Negotiation Begins
Many make the mistake of defining negotiation as, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine.” They believe that the tactics to be employed to accomplish this objective are to be strong, rigid, aggressive and intimidating. The goal is to take as much out of the deal as possible and leave only crumbs for the vanquished. Time and again it has been proven that even if a deal can be struck on this basis, it will never last and will lead only to future distrust and sure conflict. Successful negotiating will result only when both sides walk away believing they got more of what they wanted than the other guy. To that end, here are some proven principles that can help anyone achieve this type of more lasting and enduring result.
Never be so in love or in need of a deal you can’t walk away.
Prior to initiating any negotiation, know your bottom line. It does not make any difference if you are buying a car, a house, negotiating a pay package for a new job or constructing an international peace treaty, know your limits. That means knowing what you will not do or relinquish in order to make a deal. This has to be a hard-and-fast floor that is not to be violated – no matter what happens. I know this can be difficult, because the natural tendency is that once you enter into negotiations, you want to make the deal. But falling in love with making a deal is a trap that will ensnare you in a bad deal.
Just like you can’t be half-pregnant, you can’t go half way with your deal limits. Either you understand there is a point beyond which it is not worth it to make a deal and have the courage to walk away, or you don’t, and run the risk of agreeing to what for you ends up a bad deal.
There is another benefit for not being so in love with a deal that you can’t walk away. Invariably, when you do walk away from a deal because you limits have been reached (and it is not simply a theatrical bluff) you put pressure on the other party to adjust their position. You see, they are under pressure to make a deal, too, and more often than not, they can’t just let you walk away any more than they can walk away. The reality is that knowing your limits and sticking to them gives you significant leverage to make the right deal.
Get on the other side of the table and help the other person make the deal.
Once you understand what you will or will not do to make a deal, the best way forward is to learn what the other party will do or needs to do to make a deal. The way to accomplish this is to “get on the other side of the table.” You can get on the same side of that table as the one you are negotiating with by asking the simple question, “For you, what would be the very best results you could hope to achieve from our discussions? Exactly what would make you happy?”
It is true that most will be a little reserved and constrained by your approach. After all, most will be coming from the traditional approach to negotiating that says your should keep everything close to the vest and disclose nothing. But a little patience and soft cajoling will get most to open up. You are catching them off guard – no one has been concerned with what they wanted from a deal. It was always what others were trying to get.
This approach does not need to be insincere. In fact, it shouldn’t be. In pure negotiations both sides have something of value they are willing to exchange (or should be) for something of different, but of equal value. You can be perfectly sincere in trying to determine and achieve the needs and desires of the other party because –by their nature – they are not in conflict with yours. And if you can do that, the other party is more naturally agreeable to making the deal you proposed, because it is in their best interests too.
If you enter the negotiations armed with the knowledge of a hard bottom line of what you will accept to accomplish the transaction, and then gain an understanding of what the other party needs and wants to accomplish, then you are ready to put the deal together.
Humans have an almost compulsive need to reciprocate in kind to the offerings of another human. Ever notice that when you compliment a person, then a very short time later they’ll return the compliment? The same human reaction works in negotiation. If you are willing to give everything the other person wants that are unimportant to you, they will have a strong inclination to respond favorably, when you ask for something that is important to you. (If they don’t, it is time to follow rule number one and walk away from the deal.) The real art of successful negotiation is to appear to always give up more than you are asking for, and put the subliminal pressure on the other party to give the key things you need.
And the Moral of the Story . . .
There is no magic to successful negotiating. Anyone can be good at it all the time. Despite the fact that most recommend your negotiation stance must be rigid, aggressive, and intimidating and seek to take as much from the deal as possible, these tactics are really a recipe for friction, frustration and failure.
Real success in negotiating, on the other hand, is based on understanding the difference between bartering and negotiation, being willing to appear to give up more than is received and – most important of all – learning to never be so in love with a deal that you can’t walk away.
Try this approach and discover just how successful you can be in any negotiation — even with the Iranians.