Each Negotiation Can Teach Us About Every Negotiation

My friend Alice had an interesting negotiation recently. She had transferred to another division in a large company and found herself tasked with negotiating the vacation of a large storage space filled with office equipment. The task had been neglected for some time and involved a large sum of money in back payments and late fees.

Alice felt great trepidation—mostly about calling Shane, the owner of the storage facility, and discussing the situation. After we did a bit of planning and thinking together, she made the call, and it went beautifully.

A look at that situation has great lessons for all of us and for all negotiations:

You see, Alice has what I call the “silver bullet”: the ability to connect with people on a personal level and quickly establish rapport.  She can find something in common with anyone, no matter where they’re from or what they do. Age, gender, race—none of it matters. She has that priceless ability to connect with that place inside that is universal, common to us all.

After a few minutes of chitchat, they got to the heart of the matter, and the results were amazing! Alice got the late fees waived completely and the amount owed cut in half—and the owner agreed to provide moving trucks at no cost!  

Now, several factors come into play here:  

1. I’m sure that this facility deals with rough, yelling, pound-your-fist-on-the-countertop types every day. So it was probably refreshing just to deal with someone pleasant.

2. It wasn’t their money. That is, it didn’t actually cost the man Alice was dealing with any money out of his own pocket. It was company money. (By the way, most of your negotiations are the same.) If you get this point straight in your mind, it can save you a lot of anxiety. The objectivity that comes with this realization is freeing. Most on-the-job negotiations don’t involve money from your own pocket. No matter how it comes out, your kids aren’t going to miss a meal. So relax and have some fun.

3. Alice was dealing with someone who could make the decision. Nothing takes the place of negotiating with the right person. All the techniques, poise, and style in the world don’t help if you’re not talking to someone who can make the call! In our planning sessions with clients, one of the points we hammer home is “It doesn’t matter how well you sing to a fire hydrant!”

Alice’s negotiation was in the corporate world and involved storage facilities, but there are points here that can help you in every negotiation, regardless of the situation.

These three points are worth a quick ABC review:

A. Nothing takes the place of connecting with people on a personal level and quickly establishing rapport. Many people lose sight of the fact that you’re always dealing with people, not companies. You’re not negotiating with the ABC Corporation; you’re negotiating with Ted, Susan, or John. It’s people!

B. In the course of a year, you’re going to have some negotiations that go great, and some that don’t. Everyone does. The feeling of anxiety and fear that you give yourself from being tied in knots because of a negotiation is counterproductive. So relax and have some fun!

C. Be sure you’re dealing with someone who can do what you want done—who can pull the trigger. The company may have rules and guidelines, but at the end of the day, if the right person wants a thing done, it’s done. Be sure that’s who you’re dealing with.

The final lesson from Alice’s experience may be this:

Every negotiation has lessons for us, and what we learn from even small negotiations is usually relevant in large negotiations. The same techniques that work in in the yard sale down the block are used every day in multimillion-dollar deals.
So, Alice, good job, and thank you.