Negotiating with yourself versus savvy negotiating – a million dollar difference

Negotiating is a necessity of life. Children learn to negotiate to get what they want at an early age. Being an effective negotiator is a learned skill-set, though. It is a competition, and out in the real world, there are some prolific negotiators. There are many courses and programs designed to teach best practices on the subject. One simple best practice is never negotiate with yourself.

I had been leading teams for years before someone pulled me aside and shared this wisdom. I was negotiating with myself like a banshee! It was a bad habit. In many cases my personality and demeanor allowed me to survive my own worst practice. Sometimes, though, a savvy negotiator would just eat my lunch! Here is a simple example of negotiating with yourself:

Imagine a moment where I am making an offer to buy a car from an individual. We are talking on the phone and the owner asks me to make an offer. So I throw out an offer of $12,000. The savvy seller does not respond and let’s some dead space occur. Before the seller responds I begin sharpening my offer. I then offer cash. Again, no response from the savvy seller. So I lower the offer by saying “I am open to a lower number. What will you take?” This is classic negotiating with myself! Do not overthink or overact. Once a number is on the table, negotiate it to your winning position. Do not negotiate with yourself!

There is an old adage in negotiating that says the first person to talk loses. The example above also highlights this wisdom. Once a negotiation has begun, let the other person feel the weight of a response. Wait for them to negotiate before you feel any urge to talk or change your side of the deal.

This best practice has tremendous application in every day life, including personal and business settings. Some people negotiate to beat the other party. This is a choice. Some people negotiate to create a win-win outcome. This is also a choice. Some people are so nervous and overthinking that they give away their position without the other party ever having to say much. This is also a choice, and a very expensive one over a lifetime. So your desired outcome is up to you. Regardless of your desired outcome, though, there are best practices that support your likelihood of achieving it.

So let’s look at an example of more savvy negotiation: Using the same scenario as above. I am making an offer to buy a car from an individual. We are talking on the phone and the owner asks me to make an offer. I could say, “What will you take?” But to stay consistent with the scenario above, we will start the same. So I throw out an offer of $12,000. Once I make the offer, I remain silent until the seller responds. Period. Not a word. If he never responds I will say good bye. I am that committed to waiting. Now the seller has the full burden of negotiation. I am not going to negotiate with myself. The seller responds by saying “your offer is much lower than I had hoped.” That is not a full response. What is the number? Best practice here, once again, is to not negotiate with myself. So I remain silent. No response. Now the seller is feeling even more weight. He may even say, “are you there?” I would respond, “Yes. I am here. What number do you have in mind?” The seller now has to come up with a number and we continue the negotiation. At all phases of the negotiation, once I make an offer or concession, I sit and wait. By not negotiating with myself, I am a much better negotiator.

For this scenario above, in the end I may or may not buy this car. Getting a fair deal is also based on two people who agree to it. That may not happen. So always try to be willing to walk away if the process is flawed, the product is flawed, or the person with whom you are negotiating is unfair.

In summary, the three basic best practices above are:

  1. Never negotiate with yourself
  2. The first person to talk loses
  3. Be willing to walk away

Another real life example of this is for sales persons. Once the client says, ” OK. I will take it.” You stop selling. Hand them a pen!

In coaching top executives and leadership teams, these basic principles can be taught and proliferated at the top of the organization and then pushed down into every department. In reality, these types of best practices require coaching and onsite assistance to actually transform a culture of self negotiating to a culture of savvy negotiating. Have you ever wondered to yourself, “This is so simple. Why is it so hard to get it adopted in my company?” Change is hard and when changing layers of people and departments, it is even harder. It is possible though!

It is such an awesome opportunity to work with savvy leaders who are willing to accept, learn, and then teach and share these types of best practices. We learn from seeing things done. Sometimes we learn because we see a worst practice and we say to ourselves, “Well that did not work. I will never do it that way.” Other times we have savvy coaches and leaders who take the time and care enough to impart wisdom and best practice. In those instances we will remember those mentors and leaders for the rest of our life.

I had the privilege and honor of working with some amazing mentors and leaders early in my career. Not only did they throw me into leadership roles way over my head, they showed me how to pull it off. They gave me some tremendous best practices to make it happen. Maybe I should list these mentors in a blog. They deserve a lot of credit for my success.

Cheers to good leaders and mentors! We never stop learning. As the top executive we need to edify and grow everyone at the senior table. In kind, this process goes down into each senior leader’s department. An organization rich in best practice that is structured, staffed, and empowered optimally,  will be very successful! Therefore, as leaders, we should never stop teaching!


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