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Dialog 4: When facing a tough negotiator


Successful negotiation depends on both judicious assumptions and your refusal to make assumptions. The trick is knowing when to make them and when to shake them. A classic example comes straight from the Hollywood archives when Samuel Goldwyn spoke eloquently to George Bernard Shaw about his intention to make Shaw's Pygmalion an artistic production.

To Goldwyn's complete surprise, Shaw stated no deal could be reached. "You see, Mr. Goldwyn," he informed the open-mouthed director, "you are interested in art and I'm only interested in money."

Experience Shows

Try to keep emotions out of the picture. Abide by policies that may be restricting you, but look for creative alternatives when you can't accede to someone else's demands.

Your leadership skills are readily apparent in the following situation, which has you up against an employee who's threatening to quit if he's not allowed to attend a week-long training program in Hawaii.

Be Careful

Learn what "dirty tricks" are so you can spot them when others use them. Making others aware that you're on to them is often enough to keep them from using such ploys.


Figure 3.4 When Facing a Tough Negotiator.

The Wait or Withstand strategies are being explored here. Before we take a look at them, though, let's take a moment to consider what the "wait" or "stonewalling" ploy might mean.

  • It could honestly mean that the other party needs time to think about the proposal.

  • It might be you've put the other party on the spot and he needs time to think things through.

  • Conceivably, the other person understands that time is not on your side. Thus, he may be deliberately stalling in the hope that you'll give in rather than lose more time.

  • It could be you've made the other person feel awkward and this is his way of exacting revenge.

Withstanding, of course, means resisting or opposing. And as you'll see in the second strategy, that iron-fisted resistance has been inserted into a velvet glove.

What the Experts Say

Author and presidential advisor Herb Cohen advises negotiators to "Be patient, be personal, and be informed." He also offers this metaphorical advice: "Don't waste time with the monkey when you can go directly to the organ-grinder."

Further Considerations

If you're not relaxed before a negotiation, you may be sending out signals that your bargaining position is not a strong one. To quote a popular line from a country and western tune, "If you can fake it, we might make it."

What the Research Shows

Negotiation-meister Chester Karrass points to Watergate as an example of "Holy War" tactics carried to an ex-treme. When you encourage (or are en-couraged) to regard the other side as a mortal enemy, you run the risk of turning your team into zealots. When they're overly intent on "winning," they may make winning more important than using good judgment.

When the negotiations are complete, you and the other party should feel positive about the results. If one or neither of you does, the negotiations failed—at least on one level.

Negotiators are more sophisticated than ever. Just as most citizens are familiar with the "good cop/bad cop" routine employed by some police officers, many employees know about basic negotiating tactics. Whatever you do, don't be transparent in your efforts.

Experience Shows

Go into a negotiation prepared. Make a simple chart with four quadrants. List what you're seeking, what you're willing to relinquish, what the other person probably wants, and what the other person is probably able or willing to give up. Don't be too rigid with this approach, though. Remember that negotiation is a give-and-take process that has many surprises along the way.

Pay attention to the negotiating climate. If it's not built on trust, you'll find some of these negative elements rearing their ugly heads: manipulation, superiority, inflexibility, and insulting language.

People prefer resolution, even if it means some compromise, to unresolved states of conflict. Use this in your favor.

Ask Yourself

  • How do I feel when pressure is put on me to accept an offer I find unacceptable?
  • Negotiation has been called the game of life. Do I know the rules?
  • How important is aggressiveness in the negotiation process?
  • How much stock do I place in the body language "spoken" during negotiations?
  • How often do I validate the other party's position while negotiating?
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