The Negotiator Magazine

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Attitude of Mind: a Key to Success and Failure in Negotiation

Jonathan Sims

Negotiating behavior is largely determined by mental attitudes. Achieving excellence in negotiation, as in other fields of endeavor, demands that we go deeper than process. Studying process might make us competent car drivers, standard guitar strummers, 15 minute-mile joggers or bearable after-dinner speakers. If you're happy with achieving 45%, 50% or 55% of what's on the table, then you can remain firmly within your comfort zone. Achieving excellence demands leaving our comfort zones and addressing our mental attitudes.

Mental attitudes are largely determined by our negotiation objectives. If we see the aim of negotiation as "reaching an agreement which satisfies the needs of both parties and with which both sides are happy", then our mental attitude isn't hugely exercised. We need look no further than studying process and improving techniques which merely bolt on new skills to our current behavior. We could read a book, attend a one-day seminar, achieve a deal better than our minimum position, feel good that we have preserved the relationship with the other side and feel warm in the knowledge that we have negotiated "principledly."

But what if our aims are much more ambitious? Such as: "our aim in negotiation is to take away 100% of what's available on the table, regardless of the happiness of either side." I would guess that this immediately challenges the social and mental attitudes of the reader. You might well be envisioning raw greed, bad feeling, harsh words, exploitation and wrecked relationships. I don't disagree, but it does have a validity as far as commercial negotiation is concerned (I stress commercial because political, personal and union negotiations have different constraints and priorities): that the objective of Capitalism is to maximize profit, not to achieve a nebulous "fair" profit, and that achieving personal happiness in negotiation is important to the Child not the Adult, and that your Child has no place at the negotiating table.

My objection to the latter approach to negotiation would be on pragmatic rather than ethical grounds. Bad feeling usually leads to bad business. The other side usually does have a Child that can be as destructive as cooperative. What if we aim at "taking 100% of what's on the table and leave the other side delighted with the deal?" That does challenge our values, mental attitudes and negotiating behaviors.

  Very importantly, also, in over fifteen years of analyzing negotiating behavior particularly in the commercial environment, I have found a variety of inappropriate attitudes of mind and their ensuing behaviors that are of critical importance to the outcome of negotiations. These findings illuminate these other integral keys to success and failure in negotiation. A listing of those inappropriate attitudes of mind follows.

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May/June 2005