Mindsets, Battles, and Negotiation

If, in preparing for a negotiation, you view it as a battlefield, you might want to look at your mindset. The way we see it, gone are the olden days when win/lose negotiation strategies might have had some merit. In our highly interdependent world, when you hurt someone else, you are often also hurting yourself.

The question good negotiators are asking themselves these days is: “Am I planning on building a relationship with this person/company or am I going to conduct a transaction?” We believe that the best possible answer is… both. Which then begs the question: “Will the relationship be running the transaction or will the transaction be running the relationship?”

If our thoughts circle around how little we can give the person/company in exchange for how much we can get – a ‘we win/you lose’ scenario – we’re planning a transaction… padded with just enough showy interest to make it seem as though building a good relationship with the other person is our objective.

It’ll work… once; maybe twice; but in the long-run, that individual is going to suss-out the underlying dynamic and realize the showiness is a means to an end. The real deal lies in building a great relationship with the other person while we exchange and trade. And that means examining our mindset; among other things: biases, pressure, and hard-lines.


Let’s use a political and military conflict as an example. The Crimea has been in international news frequently in recent years, but it’s not the first time Russia has been at odds with the West over this peninsula in the Black Sea. During The Battle of Balaclava in the 1854 Crimean War, British Captain Lewis Nolan of the 15th Hussars, who was a ferocious advocate of the aggressive use of cavalry, was inflamed by the failure to use the force decisively.  Consequently, angrily and with a careless gesture, he compounded the ambiguous order he was passing on that ultimately had The Light Brigade cavalry descend into a North Valley artillery barrage, unprotected and alone, into a 3-sided wall of Russian artillery and a disastrous result.

Had he considered – and challenged – his biases (his mindset) before the battle, the outcome would have been different. Therefore, here are some questions to ask before we march into a negotiation and create a skirmish: “What ‘preconceived notions’ – what biases do I have about this situation; this person; this organization? Does that information come from other people or from my own experience? What kind of more productive mindset could replace that thinking? And lastly, what could happen during the negotiation that would trigger me and make me upset?” Note, however, that this is no guarantee for success, as the question of biases is very difficult for all of us.  Indeed, we all have hidden biases, which by definition we cannot see. We need input from others to help us spot and manage our hidden biases, and even then it’s tricky (see Harvard Professor Mahzarin R. Banaji’s excellent work on Hidden/Implicit Biases for more about this).


We all feel pressure to do well. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of pressure… it helps shift us into a higher gear. But when the pressure is being applied by a demanding boss or colleague; when we’re asked to squeeze every last nickel out of an individual or company; when we’re told this is a win-at-all-costs battle, we tend to disregard relationship-building, and we tend to hurt not just “the enemy”, but also ourselves in the process.

If the pressure is coming from a boss or colleague, then with some forethought, we can go to them and say: “I’m not comfortable going in and hammering so-and-so or their company. After all, they have something we need and we have something they need. So I’ve thought of a way to improve the end results, and I want to get your perspective/input on it.” Essentially, you’re looking for how the negotiation can leave all key parties better off, and you’re getting buy-in at the same time.

If you’re pressuring yourself, it’s likely you’re the one concerned about the end result and about looking good. If you look at ways to build the relationship and solve the problem in a mutually-beneficial way, the pressure will likely ease.


If we don’t find ways to deal with pressure, we often find ourselves adopting a ‘No way I’m going to give them this’ attitude. Careful; that hard-line is a short hop to playing the bully card of: “You need us more than we need you, so we can afford to disregard what you want.”

Pull back; pull back; pull back… not because that card won’t work, but because they may be quite willing to give you something quite different than expected and more valuable than the cheapest price, IF we go about it a different way.

In next month’s article, we’ll help you set the stage for that.

Although we’re using a military example for illustrative purposes where the parties were in fact enemies fighting a battle, many negotiations turn into battles – or even begin that way. We believe that negotiations do not need to be that way.  We recommend instead that you think of the negotiation as a puzzle to solve, and think of your counterpart as a joint problem-solver – even if, or in fact especially if – you have been acting as enemies in a battle up to that point. Research and our experience in the field shows us time and time again that this will produce better results for all key parties compared to proceeding with the battle – even when it’s a battle you could actually win.

Indeed, all boats can rise with the tide.

Here’s wishing you many successfully-solved puzzles.

*  There’s a fascinating account of The Battle of Balaclava here:

This Economist article explains the motivations behind the Crimean War.


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