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Creating Value at the Bargaining Table

Randy Kutz
© Scotwork NA

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That old proverb is something my grandpa used to declare upon finding something discarded by another that he saw as redeemable. My grandpa was a tinkerer. He could fix anything (or salvage some obscure part and use it to fix something else). He actually made my brothers and me a go-kart out of a lawn mower engine and random parts from his garage filled with “treasures” he picked up along the way. 

I’m reminded of his eureka moments at least twice a year when the great American tradition of “Bulk Trash Day” descends upon neighborhoods everywhere. Or should it be called “Bulk Treasure Day”? Why not? Because, I swear, once items are placed on the curb, some gnome comes along in the middle of the night and hauls the “good stuff” away, probably chuckling as they recite the proverb in a gleeful jingle: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

My gramps was not an educated man, in the traditional sense, but he was a smart man and he taught me many things. His resourcefulness with stuff was the obvious takeaway. Perhaps not as obvious is how this proverb applies to the negotiating table. Fundamentally, negotiation is a trading activity — giving up (trading) items of lesser value in exchange for items of greater value. A key element of this give/get exchange is rooted in how value is perceived and is what makes for a successful negotiation. 

Unfortunately, many dealmakers unknowingly err at this very point of the negotiation, because they attribute degrees of value to something universally. Meaning, if I value it . . . so must the other party; or, if I don’t value it . . . they must not either. Therein lies the problem with the trade. The best thing to trade is something you don’t place much value on, but that your counterpart does — and it’s in your power to give it. Someone asks for something to be included in the deal and you don’t have any need for it. It’s no big deal to you and costs you nothing, so you “give it away” and usually wrap it up with a nicety along the lines of “sure, no problem.” And onto the trash heap it goes. Your trash, but their treasure.

Instead of giving this item away, put a value on it (their value) and then trade for it. Get something in return. The more they value it, the greater the concession you can potentially extract from them. This clearly requires you to assess what you have that they might want, and what you want that they might have. This is part of the preparation you do before you come to the table. Having analyzed the tradeable items in advance will empower you at the table to be creative with your proposals and decisive with your concessions. In some scenarios, you may seek smaller items or even items you may not value as highly on your list. This creates opportunities to bundle concessions and trade back for the items of larger value in future counterproposal rounds.

Valuing concessions should not be a one-size-fits-all activity. People value different things for different reasons and in different seasons. Ask more questions to find out what your counterpart wants, what they need, what their interests and inhibitions are, what motivates them, and then put the price tags on your tradeables based on how they value them, not how you value them. You are likely to find yourself in a better position to get more of what you want out of the deal.

Find Your Treasure

An objective eye can help you create better value at the negotiating table. Scotwork is the world’s leading negotiation consulting firm. We help our clients solve their dealmaking issues through negotiation consulting, advising, and skills development.

For over 45 years, we’ve been transforming the way our clients negotiate by giving them the tools and skills required to be more assertive, profitable, and successful, while creating deals that are, quite simply, more valuable. Call us and let’s discuss what we might be able to do for you.

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