Negotiators Born or Bred?

on Saturday, 28 February 2015.

He Called Me Francis Underwood:


I’m not a politician, well not an elected representative anyway and yet lately I was compared to Francis Underwood from the fantastic television series “House Of Cards”. Not sure what was meant, I asked, in what way. The answer I got was that people like me are all the same, we are always looking for a way around problems, always looking for solutions rather than, as he saw it, dealing with the problem. Not sure if he meant it as a compliment or not I did start thinking, what did he mean as people like me, is there a group of us who see things in a different way, and why. Are deal makers born or bred?

Negotiators: Nature or Nurture?


I can’t say for certain if the brain of the “natural” negotiator is hard wired in a different way to the people who struggle to make deals but I can say for definite that the skill of being an effective collaborator, negotiator or problem solver needs to be learned, practised and constantly developed. There is a huge amount of study done on negotiation skills and a plethora of literature to read, I know I’ve read many of them. There are courses upon courses, I provide them so I know but there is nothing that can replace the practical. Negotiation skills are learned through the process and are enhanced by review.


The Balcony View:


Self-reflection and self-awareness are two key parts of the negotiation process largely ignored by many negotiators. But the power of sitting down with yourself after the negotiation and asking a couple of tough questions is demonstrable. Ask “Am I still happy with the outcome”, “What else may have been available to me, or “What other outcomes were possible” and “Why did I not achieve them”. During the negotiation process did I keep my emotions in check, did I keep my vision and goals at the forefront of my mind, was I aware of my BATNA and WATNA.

Every human being is emotionally driven and I have never yet met anyone who didn’t feel good about closing a deal, but there-in lies the challenge, and it gets worse as the deals get bigger. The adrenaline starts flowing, the limbic system kicks in and all of a sudden there’s a rush of emotion and a willingness to sprint over the line, almost with the soundtrack of Chariots of Fire running through the mind. Time to be careful, do not sprint for the line, negotiations are not races, this is the time to slow down, review the process, check the outcomes against your interests. Do not give the deal away because you ran when you should have walked.

The contrary is also true, if your counterpart plays a long drawn out patient game then the emotions can be very different, all you want to do is to get to the end, just to get finished and move on. Equally dangerous this is the time when concessions are made at haste and regretted at length. Protect yourself from your emotions.

Become more self-aware, be conscious of the effect of your behaviour on your counterpart, are you encouraging a trust building collaborative process or are you building bridges or walls. Does your body language and tone convey a different message to the one you intend to send? What would that person on the balcony think of the way you behaved?

We all provide feedback in our businesses but often we forget the self-reflective element that makes us better at what we do. Even negotiators need to separate themselves from the process and review their performance. It is only by doing so that the good get to be great and that we become experts.


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