Becoming a better negotiator

When I tell people that I’m a professional negotiator, most simply cock their heads to the side – a little wide-eyed. Sorta’ like the way my dog does when I say something a little odd. But after the initial shock, they usually come at me with a slew of questions about the job… and how they can better negotiate their own deals.

Generally, I tell them that it’s the same as the age-old joke about “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” … “Practice, practice, practice.”

Negotiation is no different. To get better, you just have to do it over and over and over again. You have to try… you have to fail. And you really will fail – miserably. Repeatedly. But over time, as you figure out your style and you learn from each mistake, you’ll get better. So what happens to most people along the way that makes them feel like they can’t be a good negotiator? Well, I’m not exactly sure.

I think part of it is our culture. Within the United States, with minor exception, we don’t operate in a bargaining society. We’re used to paying the advertised price for the things we want as they are delivered. But this is not representative of all human societies. Look at the Mexican and several other Hispanic and Latin cultures, for example, and you see a much different experience. EVERYTHING is negotiable, and people who grow up in those societies are superior negotiators as a result. What’s really interesting about these individuals, though, is that they don’t think of it as something special… and don’t think of it as negotiating. It’s just a part of the transaction.

This tends to make some folks assume wrongly that culture or some other innate ability allows someone to be a good negotiator. On the contrary, it’s still practice. A good comparison for this is sports. Folks would like to assume that certain cultures, races or other immutable trait makes an individual predisposed to be a better athlete. This allows someone who is less skilled an excuse for not being as good.

But the US Olympic Committee performed a study in 2003, describing the success factors (and obstacles) that most influenced their Olympic development (thanks to Curt Rosengren’s M.A.P. Maker for the headsup). Let’s look at the success factors (the percentage is how often that factor was ranked in each Olympian’s list):

Top 10 Success Factors

1. Dedication and Persistence: 58.1%

2. Support of Family and Friends: 52.0%

3. Excellent coaches: 49.4%

4. Love of sport: 27.1%

5. Excellent training programs and facilities: 22.3%

6. Natural talent: 21.9%

7. Competitiveness: 15%

8. Focus: 13%

9. Work ethic: 11.6%

10. Financial support: 11.5%

Look at #’s1-3 and then at #6. Dedication, persistence, support and coaching are all ahead of natural talent. And even ahead of competitiveness and focus, which, by the way, also tend to be seen as drivers of good negotiators.

So… get out there and practice. And if you need support or coaching and can’t find it anywhere else, shoot me an e-mail. We can help each other.

The Licensing Handbook Blog is the companion site to the Software Licensing Handbook. Covering a licensing topic every week, Jeffrey Gordon attempts to offer advice, add humor and sometimes even a bit of wit to a practice that most people find abhorrent – namely, reading a contract from start to finish.


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