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Negotiation Is Misunderstood

Brian Buck
240603 Negotiation Myths Busted
© Scotwork NA

I recently delivered a keynote speech on “How to increase the value of your deals.” There was a lot of buzz at the meet and greet prior to the event about negotiation. As I mingled and people asked me questions about what I do, I quickly realized just how misunderstood negotiation is.

When I tell people that I’m a professional negotiator, I’m asked a lot of questions. The first one is usually, “Are you a lawyer?” That’s the first misunderstanding. Everyone negotiates, not just lawyers.

There’s a broad misconception that negotiation is something that happens behind closed doors, or that it’s reserved for attorneys and hostage situations. In reality, we all negotiate every day. In fact, we do most of our negotiations outside of work. We do it with our friends and family as we discuss what show to watch or who will do the dishes. We do it with our significant others as we decide what’s for dinner or what we’re doing this weekend. We do it with our kids regarding homework, bedtimes, and playtimes. It’s literally an essential life skill — not something reserved only for those in business attire.

The next question I’m typically asked is, “So, your job is just to say ‘no’?” That’s the next misunderstanding. Negotiations aren’t about saying “no” — they’re about saying “yes.”

In a negotiation, there’s very little power in saying “no.” In fact, “no” tends to cut off possibilities and stifle creativity — two things that all negotiators want a lot of. When I’m negotiating, there’s a lot more power in “yes.” If I can say “yes” to your demand, then I’m in a position of power because I can do something for you, and I can use that to have you do something for me. Therefore, “yes” generates possibilities and fosters creativity, which enables me to create more valuable deals.

Once the first two questions are out of the way, I also get asked, “Negotiation is about winning at all costs, right?” Another misunderstanding. Negotiation is about creating deals that both parties can support.

Most of the negotiations you’re involved with consist of people who you either have to work with, live with, or sleep with. Very few negotiations involve people you’ll never see again. Therefore, if all I’m about is winning at all costs, then I’d be the most hated person in my circle of colleagues and friends, not to mention my family. Negotiation isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about creating the best possible outcome that everyone can support — one that’ll ultimately preserve and strengthen relationships. 

There are lots of other misunderstandings I hear, including . . .

  • You need to be mean to be a negotiator.
  • Those who speak first, lose.
  • Keep your cards close to your vest.
  • Never tell them what you really want.
  • Negotiations are only about money.

The worst part about these misunderstandings is that people act upon them!

At Scotwork, we study trillions of dollars of commerce a year through our Global Negotiation Capability Assessment. Misunderstandings like those above are a primary reason why only 23% of people can identify the long-term value they’ve negotiated, or that only 21% say they’ve strengthened relations with the other side through their negotiations. In other words, these misunderstandings have about 80% of negotiators destroying value and relationships.

That 80% is especially disturbing when you consider that most relationships, particularly in business, start with some sort of negotiation. This is what we at Scotwork are dedicated to solving . . . but it helps to lead up to that, since such a statistic tends to kill the vibe at meet and greets.

We Can Help Put You in the 20% of Dealmakers Who Build Value and Strengthen Relationships.

Understand that negotiation should build value and strengthen relationships. Rely on Scotwork’s nearly 50 years to get you the best possible outcome that everyone can support.

Talk to one of our experts today.

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