The Spectrum of Negotiation: Using the Right Skills for the Context
When I was fifteen, I sold lawn aeration door to door. An entrepreneur with a pickup and a lawn aeration machine would drive a couple of buddies and me around all weekend selling work, then spend the week doing the work. We got paid the following week. I think my commission was 20 percent of what I sold. I was a very happy teenager.
Pricing was done with a crude algorithm that combined approximate yard size with the make of the car in the driveway and the quality of the neighborhood. The negotiation was, “Here’s the price. Are you interested?”
I’ve read four good books on negotiating over the past thirty years:
- Secrets of Power Negotiating, by Roger Dawson
- Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss
- Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton
- The New Negotiating Edge, by Gavin Kennedy
The first two are tactical and somewhat unnerving. They give tools and strategies to gain trust and manipulate someone you are negotiating with to get the best deal or agreement. Lessons I took away were the ability to recognize and thwart shady tactics when I encountered them. This approach is based on viewing negotiating as a zero-sum game—whatever one party gains is a loss to the other.
The other two books were much more satisfying, describing a cooperative process for trying to reach a mutually acceptable (win-win) agreement. The quick summary of these is “Either the agreement is a win for both parties or no deal.” This approach better fit my style.
With experience, I’ve realized that negotiation occurs on a spectrum, and different tactics apply in different situations.
At one extreme is the one-off transaction, such as purchasing a used car from someone you don’t know and will never meet again. In this case, negotiation largely is a zero-sum game. Don’t be a jerk (personal rule), but every penny you can negotiate the price lower is a penny out of the seller’s pocket and into yours (and vice versa).
The other extreme is negotiating a transaction as part of an ongoing business relationship, like when selling products or services to customers or clients where you have a vested interest in both the transaction and the ongoing relationship.
Negotiating tactics and strategies must be matched to the context: where a transaction falls on that spectrum. Aggressive or “hard” negotiating with clients and treating it like a zero-sum game, even if you “win,” can result in long-term losses when people feel they were treated unfairly. Cooperative or “soft” negotiating in a zero-sum game may make you feel like a kind and accommodating person, but it can be needlessly expensive.
We constantly negotiate with spouses, friends, children, associates, bosses, vendors, clients, and strangers. Have you developed effective negotiating skills? Are you applying negotiating skills appropriate for the context?