The Negotiator Magazine

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Can a Good Negotiator Really Make a Difference?

By Ed Brodow

The ability of a good negotiator to make a significant difference is often brought into question. Does it make sense to improve your negotiating skills or is it all a big waste of time? The issue came up when a friend asked: "Should I sell my house by myself or am I better off hiring a real estate agent?" Real estate agents receive as much as six percent commission. What my friend was asking is, are they worth it? Can a real estate agent earn her commission by negotiating a better deal than you could all by yourself? Good question.

If you ask around, many people will suggest that every deal has a "perfect outcome" that will be reached no matter what the negotiators do. A house that is worth $300,000 will sell for around $300,000, give or take a minor variation. A job that is worth $100,000 per annum will pay around $100,000. Not much any negotiator can do to influence the outcome. Can this be true? Here is the answer that I discovered in my Negotiation Boot Camp™ seminars.

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In each seminar, participants are divided into pairs for negotiation role-plays. If the group consists of 50 people, we have 25 negotiations going on simultaneously and they all have the exact same situation, the same assumptions, the same amount of time to make a deal. Over the last twenty years, I have conducted literally hundreds of these seminars with thousands of participants from every conceivable industry and region. Without a single exception, the results of the role-plays always show as much as a 100 percent variation in outcomes. In other words, if the participants are negotiating for the price of a house in which the seller is asking $300,000, the outcomes will range from approximately $175,000 to $350,000. Considering that they are all negotiating for the same thing, how can this be? Without question, it is the negotiating ability of the various participants that accounts for the difference.

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April 2006