You may not think of yourself as a negotiator, but indeed, you are. For as Jean Chrétien says in the foreword to David Dingwall’s new book, Negotiating So Everyone Wins, “…everything in public life, the private sector and even personal matters happens as a result of a negotiation”.
The trick is to become good at it. Lucky for us, David Dingwall has given us a step-by-step tome on exactly how to create the kind of deals that satisfy you and the other person/party.
He encourages a strategic approach, which in his eyes, means preparation. He persuades us to take the time to flush out the major issues, and then to “think through every imaginable angle of the deal or dispute, and envision how it will unfold. It’s arriving at the bargaining table as if you have been gazing into a crystal ball”. We don’t typically link crystal ball gazing with strategic approaches, but it’s Dingwall unique way of encouraging us to gather knowledge about what might happen long before something takes place.
He likens those strategic approaches to the making of jazz, in that great jazz musicians are highly trained and can see, feel or hear the music once they’re on stage…before it arrives in the world…before it’s actually played. Likewise, once we’ve thought through all the angles of the deal…once we’re involved in the actual negotiation, just like the jazz musician, we’ll be able to understand and have access to a myriad of options.
But what if the other players in the room make agreements impossible? What if your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement ‒ your BATNA(2) ‒ is to walk away? Here’s what Ed Clark, former President and CEO of TD says about walking-away and the highly-skilled team he assembled to make acquisition: “They get paid for doing a good job, not necessarily for making the acquisition. If we walk away because it was too pricey or we don’t like the risks, we have a celebration for that team, and it’s the same celebration as if they had completed the deal.” Very wise indeed.
Dingwall himself talks extensively about the importance of relationships and how to build them. In essence he says we must take the time to build them…that our diligent efforts will enhance the entire negotiation. It’s a philosophy however that can cause difficulties for North Americans when they’re doing business in other parts of the world such as East Asian countries. For instance, we Westerners like to get to the point as quickly as possible and can become impatient with the many dinners that precede and continue throughout the talks. In countries like China and Japan, such get-togethers are seen as relationship-building necessities, and are as crucial if not more crucial to the outcome of the negotiation than the actual talks themselves.
But what about the relationship in which you’re intimidated by a negotiator who looks strong, speaks well, is likeable and has a great grasp of the issues? Someone like that can bring up our insecurities, which in turn, can result in ‘ego-creep’, a way of over-enlarging ourselves, our views, and the positions we’ve taken. To illustrate, Dingwall talks about how George Bush Jr.’s derisive attitude and snide remarks toward other countries and leaders not only showed his lack of confidence but created problems for his administration. On the other hand, George Bush Sr.’s ability to listen, excellent probing and coalition-building skills, and confidence to create relationships without ego-creep, illustrated his outstanding ability to lead.
There’s a marvelous anecdote in the book about ego-creep and how having a bias in favour of yourself and making assumptions can trip you up. It concerns his family cottage, a set of doors that needed replacement, and how he says he “acted with a military general’s certainty of success and proceeded without input from anyone in my family or circle of friends”. We won’t give away the fiasco that ensued other than to say $12,000 and sixteen weeks later… .
We think you’ll enjoy the book and will get plenty of useful insights and input from it.
(2) Regarding the acronym BATNA, Dingwall references and also builds on the seminal book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreements Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton, of the Harvard Negotiation Project ‒ a book Common Outlook Consultants use extensively in their teachings and consulting work.