Six Habits of Merely Effective Negotiators

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Six Habits of Merely Effective Negotiators

The Idea in Brief
High stakes. Intense pressure. Careless mistakes. These can turn your key negotiations into disasters. Even seasoned negotiators bungle deals, leaving money on the table and damaging working relationships. Why? During negotiations, six common mistakes can distract you from your real purpose: getting the other guy to choose what you want—for his own reasons. Avoid negotiation pitfalls by mastering the art of letting the other guy have your way—everyone will win.

The Idea in Practice
NEGOTIATION MISTAKES Neglecting the other side’s problem If you don’t understand the deal from the other side’s perspective, you can’t solve his problem or yours. Example: A technology company that created a cheap, accurate way of detecting gas-tank leaks couldn’t sell its product. Why? EPA regulations permitted leaks of up to 1,500 gallons, while this new technology detected 8-ounce leaks. Fearing the device would spawn regulatory trouble, potential customers said, “No deal!” Letting price bulldoze other interests Most deals involve interests besides price: • a positive working relationship, crucial in longer-term deals • the social contract, or “spirit of the deal,” including goodwill and shared expectations • the deal-making process—personal, respectful, and fair to both sides Searching too hard for common ground While common ground helps negotiations, different interests can give each party what it values most, at minimum cost to the other. Example: An acquirer and entrepreneur disagree on the entrepreneurial company’s likely future. To satisfy their differing interests, the buyer agrees to pay a fixed amount now and contingent amount later, based on future performance. Both find the deal more attractive than walking away. Neglecting BATNA BATNAs (“best alternative to a negotiated agreement”) represent your actions if the proposed deal weren’t possible; e.g., walk away, approach another buyer. Assessing your own and your partner’s BATNA reveals surprising possibilities. Example: A company hoping to sell a struggling division for somewhat more than its $7 million value had two fiercely competitive bidders. Speculating each might pay an inflated price to trump the other, the seller ensured each knew its rival was looking. The division’s selling price? $45 million. Failing to correct for skewed vision Two forms of bias can prompt errors: • Role bias—overcommitting to your own point of view and interpreting information in self-serving ways. A plaintiff believes he has a 70% chance of winning his case, while the defense puts the odds at 50%. Result? Unlikelihood of out-of-court settlement. • Partisan perceptions—painting your side with positive qualities, while vilifying your “opponent.” Self-fulfilling prophecies may result. Counteract these biases with role-plays of the opposition’s interests.


Price-centric tactics leave these potential joint gains unrealized. Letting positions drive out interests Incompatible positions may mask compatible interests. Your gain isn’t necessarily your “opponent’s” loss. Example: Environmentalists and farmers opposed a power company’s proposed dam. Yet compatible interests underlay these seemingly irreconcilable positions: Farmers wanted water flow; environmentalists, wildlife protection; the power company, a greener image. By agreeing to a smaller dam, waterflow guarantees, and habitat conservation, everyone won.

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Like many executives, you know a lot about negotiating. But still you fall prey to a set of common errors. The best defense is staying focused on the right problem to solve.

Six Habits of Merely Effective Negotiators
by James K. Sebenius


Global deal makers did a staggering...
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