The Negotiator Magazine

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I had a student several years ago who had a dog when she and her brother were young. After the dog got old and passed away, she asked for another dog. Her father was completely opposed to another dog, since she and her brother had not taken care of their previous dog. After trying unsuccessfully for several weeks to change her father's mind, she caught him one evening and suggested that she would like to get a monkey. He panicked, and by the next day she had a puppy. I don't think her father every appreciated how well she out smarted him in this regard.

Two lawyers married to each other were working on a case together one evening in their kitchen. Their young daughter was in the same room reading. They were discussing the status of their on-going negotiations with the other side. One finally said that they should be careful to demand more than they hoped to obtain. They thought they had come up with an extraordinary insight until their daughter asked them if that was the same as when she asked for three friends to sleep over on Friday evening when she only wanted two! They should have consulted her earlier as they planned their negotiation strategy with the opposing party.

I have been surprised in recent years by the number of legal and business negotiators who begin their interactions in a rude and uncivil manner. They make it clear they plan to clean out their opponents and exacerbate the situation with some gratuitous insults. They are disappointed when their efforts culminate in failure. Most were undoubtedly told by their parents when they were children that we get more with sugar than we do with vinegar, yet they don't believe that the same principle applies to adult interactions. People hate to be treated badly. When we are insulted or offended, we look for ways to reject the entreaties of the offending individuals. On the other hand, when we are treated well, we begin to like those which whom we are interacting and we feel guilty if we are unable to satisfy their needs.

When adults negotiate, they should remember what they learned as children. How did they manipulate their parents and older siblings to obtain what they wanted even when they did not possess much bargaining power? How did they resolve disagreements on the playground or during sandlot sports games? When they don't possess much bargaining power, they should act as if they don't appreciate the power advantage possessed by the other side. If they do this effectively, opponents will begin to question their own advantageous circumstances. They should be persistent. If they don't get when they want now, they should continue to ask politely for additional concessions. They should always give themselves bargaining room by asking for more or offering less than they really hope to attain recognizing the impact of anchoring on others. Before they know it, they should possess better results than they objectively deserve.

Negotiators should always be polite and professional. They should appreciate the fact that rude behavior is generally a substitute for negotiating proficiency. Skilled bargainers do not behave badly, recognizing that this is the least effective way to obtain what one wants. One can be a forceful and effective advocate while being thoughtful and pleasant. Negotiators must appreciate the fact that the other side is not the enemy. They are merely the people on the other side. Not only are they not the enemy, they are this side's best friends. Without them, this side would have no one to interact with and might even be unemployed.

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February 2005