Negotiation skill

Yesterday was the Business of Software 2007 Software Idol competition in San Jose. The topic of my 11 minute talk was the Five Fundamental Skills for Effective Negotiation – a result of research done last year. I didn’t win the prize (a Nintendo Wii), but I did end up having some great conversations with many of the world’s leading thinkers with respects to technology. Bill Buxton, head of Microsoft Research, asked me two very simple, yet often ignored questions about negotiation and negotiators.

First, he wanted to know whether a skilled negotiator (or sales person) could identify someone not so skilled simply on the basis of an initial conversation. The easy answer is “yes, they can.” If you are party to a negotiation and are not a skilled negotiator when the other side is, they will know it.

The logical followup second question then is whether two skilled negotiators create better deals. The answer, generally speaking, is also yes. I know that if I’m talking with another trained negotiator, we’re going to complete the deal much faster and more efficiently. Part of it is the negotiation skills and part of it is the contract/license experience to know where there are real issues versus red herrings.

For example, governing law is not a real issue. The parties either agree on their respective home states or New York. Once in awhile it’s Delaware. It’s a non-issue and can derail an unskilled negotiator/contract professional who is unable to move to the more important contract components.

So… the moral of the story is that if you’re a less-experienced negotiator, please go educate yourself. Books, training classes (and of course, real experience) will all help you to become better. Then add in the licensing component to understand what is really important as opposed to what only appears important.

1 thought on “Negotiation skill

  1. Stephen Frenkel

    I would absolutely agree. Not only can a skilled negotiator tell if they are dealing with someone who isn’t as skilled, they can also manipulate the process in their favor, ensuring a more favorable outcome for themselves almost every time (though I would contend that this is self-defeating behavior in the long-run).


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