Friday, May 27, 2005

Negotiating Tips

Yesterday I spent a terrific day at a course called “Negotiate with Confidence & Power,” run by Kelley Robertson, a former retail-sales trainer turned consultant and workshop leader. (His Stop, Ask & Listen is one of the best books on selling written by a Canadian.)

Lots of highlights, including three role-playing exercises that really expanded your mind as to the opportunities you have as a negotiator. We have all heard that negotiators should strive for a win-win outcome, but we don’t tend to behave like that in practice. Our instinct is to put our own needs on the table and then fight for them – usually repeating our demands (needs, requests, whatever) over and over rather than genuinely trying to find common ground.

Our first exercise was a real eye-opener. In the role-play, Person A is trying to obtain all existing supplies of a rare fruit extract in order to create a vaccine to stop a devastating new disease; Player B needs the same product to create a plant growth supplement that could prevent millions of deaths due to drought in Africa. The twist: neither person was given any information about each other’s needs or motivations.

You had to discover them yourself. Which is a wonderful lesson in itself. Because we all tend to assume too much, ask too few questions, and talk more than listen.

It was almost painful watching us argue with each other and try to ram our needs down each others’ throat, rather than focus on the other person’s interests and how we might work together. Had we been smart enough to do that, we might have discovered that each of us wanted different things: the vaccine people needed the skin of the fruit, the supplement makers needed the pulp inside. We could have both got what we wanted had we asked more questions and worked on establishing trust.

Powerful stuff.

Three of many negotiating tips from Kelley Robertson:

-- Keep your ego out of the negotiating process.
-- Information is key. The person with the most information generally does better.
-- When you make a concession, always ask for something in return .

You can read more about Kelley’s work, sign up for his 59-Second Tip newsletter, or check out his e-books at

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