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January 14, 2011

Being Powerful

by Katie

In negotiation, people confuse “having power” with “being a jerk” fairly regularly.

Go to a third-rate negotiation training and they’ll offer the unhelpful advice of “don’t share information,” “always be aggressive” and “don’t call back if it’s after 4:00 in the afternoon; wait 24 hours and then send an email.”

This advice is bad.  It is The Rules for business relationships.  You can contort yourself into an uncomfortable and unnatural position in hopes of getting your true heart’s desire; or you could, you know, be yourself.

Being Myself was a really hard lesson when I started negotiating.  Myself believes in fairness and goodness and justice.  I’m the older sister who always shared her soda three ways, fair and square.  I’m basically agnostic, but I seriously considered going to rabbinical school to have a job where I could help people.  I cried reading President Obama’s speech at the Arizona Memorial the other day.  I own a French Bulldog.

In the beginning I thought that those beliefs, save the French Bulldog thing, would get in the way of being a good negotiator; that being nice and having a tendency toward fairness weren’t qualities a powerful negotiator wanted.

I was wrong.

Being fair and being willing to listen, makes a negotiation go a heck of a lot easier.  Fairness doesn’t mean “give them everything they want.”  Fairness is about treating people with respect and responding to them according to their behavior.

Radio Lab did a fancy little show called “The Good Show” recently, and in it they talked about all this fiarness business & how well it serves you when negotiating.  For reals.  Listen:

No seriously, listen to it now.  I’ll wait.

See??  Wasn’t that great?

Fairness works!  Being fair encourages other people to be fair.  Even when you can’t talk to them.

Oh, I know, I know. “When has this ever worked in real life?”  Well, here:

So how do you take a random story from WWI and apply it to your next negoation with a demanding client?

Remember: What power is depends on the situation.  Sometimes it is standing up and saying “No.”  Sometimes it is extending an olive branch to your adversary.  Both actions are powerful and both actions make you a good negotiator.

The next time you find yourself in a negotiation that’s stuck, look at what you have been doing, consistently defecting or cooperating, and then do the opposite.  Do what isn’t expected.  Stop the echos.


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