The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Negotiation

Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned in the last few years about negotiation from reading, talking to great negotiators, and negotiating with coworkers and bosses on small issues (getting things done) and big ones (salary). Negotiation is not about winning, putting one over on someone, or fooling the other party. If you’re trying to convince someone of something, that’s not negotiation. Negotiation only happens with both sides have something to negotiate with, and in the end, both sides should be happy with what they got in the deal.

In a great negotiation, both sides will look for things that they can offer that will benefit their counterpart more than it will hurt them. For example, if you’re negotiating salary, maybe the employer can’t pay you any extra, but they can offer you access to high level managers in another area of business that you’re interested in. Or maybe they can give you more vacation time without seriously impacting your work.

If you can find things that are more valuable to one side to have than the other side to give up, you’ve created value, and stopped negotiation from being a zero sum game. A negotiation will go better if there are good feelings on both sides – then you can genuinely explore possibilities for coming to a deal. But looking for value can work even in a hostile situation — just watch Sons of Anarchy’s rival gangs work out deals.


2 thoughts on “The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Negotiation

  1. I took a few courses in negotiating at Cornell and worked at the UN for thirty years. I sat on the board of a broadcast union, and we had to sit across the table and negotiate for the whole industry for the technical side. Usually the other side was well prepared with labor lawyers. Westinghouse and Fox are not as hard ass as you might think, but they do have agendas. As we all do.
    As you can see, I’m seeped in it. I’ve found that if you negotiate to “yes” and you think of the other side as your negotiating partner, the reality of give and take is less harsh. The UN taught me that it’s easier to negotiate than fight, because after you fight, you still have to negotiate.

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