Just Winning Points May Not Win the Game

An email I received yesterday from a prospective client made me think about the last time I was asked by someone to negotiate a deal and told to drive a hard bargain.  Never, actually.  I work primarily with nonprofit organizations and perhaps they have less taste for combat, but most clients, whether nonprofit or for-profit, want to get the deal done with minimal antagonism and then get down to the work with the “other side.”  Beating out or beating up the other side can make such a result unlikely.

The prospective client said she wanted to propose an agreement that was “maximally beneficial” to the institution with which she hoped to partner.  While her position might sound counter-intuitive, I think she was onto something.  Winning points may give you an initial rush, but the real payoff comes when you negotiate so that both parties are pleased with the final deal. That’s what my client was aiming for. There are lots of reasons to negotiate in a way that benefits both sides:

  • An initial offer that is fair and balanced sets a collaborative tone that tends to invite discussion, rather than tension, and can lead to each party understanding the other’s interests more fully.
  • Open discussion, especially of disagreements, can result in useful solutions and establish a foundation for addressing differences later in the relationship.
  • Cutting out the competitive back and forth gets the deal done more quickly — before deadlines are missed and nerves fray—as commonly happens in protracted negotiations.
  • When both sides feel they’ve gotten a fair deal and neither feels taken advantage of, mutual trust is built and the project gets off to a strong start.

In the words of the preeminent negotiator Roger Fisher, “if you want the other side to appreciate your interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs.”

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