The Art of Negotiation

Amazon lists no fewer than 225,000 books on negotiation. Remember my view on this – the more books there are, the more important the subject and the less likely that any one book can ever give you the answer. Negotiation lies at the heart of business. As Chester L. Karrass said (the title of his book), “In business as in Life, You Don’t get What You Deserve, You Get What You Negotiate”. And if you don’t understand the art of negotiation you will get what you deserve but not what you want. Negotiation is a business art everyone should understand and want to try to improve on. My experience is that very few do.

If you want to spot someone who does not understand even the basics of negotiation – and is therefore likely to be easy prey assuming you do- try this simple test. Go through the concessions or terms you want them to accept one at a time and see if they are dumb enough to comment on the first one. If they do you know you have a rank amateur in front of you. You never comment on a list of concessions until you have them all out on the table. Until you are sure you do you just say nothing or perhaps ask a question, ideally “Anything else you want?”. If you have any skill you then run the negotiation so as to get as much information about a) why the person is asking for something and b) how important it is relative to the other things they are asking for.

A seminal piece on negotiation is ‘Getting to Yes’ by Messrs Fisher, Ury and Patton. It was first published, and I first read it, in 1981. I re-read it as a summary from GetAbstract (a very good summary, well done guys) and was reminded just how wise it is. This is where you should start – the summary or the full book. It merits consideration as one of my top 10 business books of all time.

Just like you can always spot someone who has had media training if you have had some yourself (Good morning, can I start by saying that our deepest sympathies go to the relatives of the family who died as a result of the fire at our factory) anyone who has read ‘Getting to Yes’ will spot that you have also read it. They will see how you are trying to focus on interest areas rather than pre-determined negotiating positions, they will notice that you introduce the idea of objective criteria to judge the eventual outcome, how you ask a lot of questions and use silence as a weapon. “You do your most effective negotiating when you say nothing”. But it doesn’t matter – you will both get to a better outcome if you understand and apply the principles of ‘Getting to Yes’. Actually, the most dangerous thing in negotiation is someone who understands nothing about it.

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