Not For Sissies

Negotiating to get what you want takes brains and backbone, regardless of whether you're gunning for your competition, or focusing on an equitable outcome. You have to think through what you want and the most effective way to get it. And you must have the moxie to follow through with your plans. Sometimes just asking for something takes nerve. After all, some of us were taught as children not to ask for anything; we were to wait until it was offered. That courtesy may have won you points with your secondgrade teacher, but it'll kill you in the real world. We usually have to go after what we want. And to get what we want, we have to be shrewd negotiators, even when we try to maintain high ethical standards.

As a matter of fact, negotiating ethically is even more demanding than trying to manipulate or trick the people you're negotiating with. First of all, being open and honest takes guts. It takes backbone to say to the people you're negotiating with, "I want to play fair. How about you." or "This is what I want. How can we both get what we want." You're challenging them to meet you on your level, and you're asking them to focus on more than their individual needs. You can get some strange reactions because people aren't used to an open approach to negotiating. Some people don't want to negotiate that way, which brings me to a second reason ethical negotiations can be so challenging: It takes savvy to make sure that someone who is not so honest doesn't manipulate you.


A difference in standards can cause serious problems when negotiating. Just because you follow all the principles I outline, that doesn't guarantee that everyone you negotiate with will be as mature and fair-minded as you are. (I know that once you've learned all my negotiating secrets, you're going to be mature and fair-minded, right.) You have to be prepared to run into less-than-honest bargainers, people who have their eye on the prize and have no qualms about running over you to get it.

These people have no interest in forging mutually beneficial agreements. They are only interested in what's good for them, and they don't mind abusing others to get it. They think they can get more by bullying the people they negotiate with. They believe they're stronger than their opponents and think they can walk away with the spoils if they go for the jugular vein.

On the other hand, not every person you meet at the negotiating table is going to be an unscrupulous rogue. Some people don't share your high standards for negotiating because they don't know any better. Before reading this article, what were your attitudes toward negotiating. Did you feel like the only way you could win was for someone else to lose. Some people don't realize there's a better, easier way to negotiate.

I have a system for negotiating that can handle any of the problems that inevitably crop up whether the other party doesn't know or simply doesn't care about ethical negotiation.


Maintain your standards.

If a person approaches negotiations aggressively out of ignorance, I can eventually win him or her over to my style. Most people don't want to be enemies. They just don't want to get ripped off. If you can demonstrate to them that you're interested in a fair deal, they will usually drop the aggressive routine and start to work with you.


Protect yourself by deflecting.

When you meet with the people who don't want to play fair, you can protect yourself — and you don't have to resort to trickery or manipulation to do it. If you think about it, most sharks are propelled by three basic drives: greed, narcissism and an exaggerated ego. And any of those three drives makes them extremely vulnerable to a smart negotiator.

Roger Fisher and William Ury call this approach "negotiation jujitsu" in their book Getting to Yes . Jujitsu is a martial art that focuses on deflecting attacks rather than engaging the enemy. If someone is running toward you aggressively, you don't stand your ground and hit back when they run into you. You step to the side and let them run past.


Call in a third-party arbitrator.

Rarely in my experience as a lawyer and a businessman have I ever had to call in a third-party arbitrator because the people I was negotiating with insisted on using less-than-honorable techniques. It almost never reaches this point. But probably most of us have been involved in situations where we needed someone who was completely impartial and had no links to anyone in the negotiations to help guide the process.

The benefit of bringing in a third party is that he or she can shift the negotiations from positional bargaining to bargaining based on interests.

A third party can look at all sides objectively and weave together a plan that takes into account everyone's interests.


Bail out.

When all else fails — you can't persuade the other party or parties to negotiate honestly and openly, and a mediator doesn't work — abandon the negotiations, at least for a while. Maybe a deal just wasn't meant to be. Sometimes you get a gut feeling telling you to get out of a certain negotiating situation. Go with it. Remember, you will be negotiating from a much stronger position if you are willing to walk away from the bargaining table. Maybe both parties need more time to think about what they want and what they are willing to give for it.


Negotiating is a complex process, even under the best of circumstances. Every person involved in a negotiation brings to the event a different background, culture, perceptions, values and standards. Breaking through these differences can seem impossible, yet it is crucial to creating a mutually beneficial agreement. Maintain your standards throughout negotiations.

If you can't win cooperation, chances are you will gain nothing from the negotiations. When you encounter people who aren't negotiating ethically, try to bring them up to your level. If the other party doesn't respond to your attempts to do that, be willing to walk away. You won't have lost anything.

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