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Negotiating - It's Not All About Winning

More and more I see business people adopt the mindset that any negotiation is raw combat with the goal of not just winning, but winning by as much margin as possible. I'm not opposed to winning, it's a basic human drive to want to win and of course we live in a world that rewards winning via capitalism. Remember the old 'it's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game'? The cynical will say that's something only said by the losers! I disagree of course, and I'd like to think that I can say that after winning  more times (perhaps barely!) than I've lost.

For example, let's take the example of an event that intimidates most people, buying a new car. It's intimidating because we don't quite understand the pricing, we get excited by new car smell, and then the finance guy comes along and baffles us with paper. The internet has offset that to a large degree, we can query for car of type x with so many options and get down to a $500-$1000 range. For most of us $1000 is real money, so we're wanting the lowest possible price. Nothing wrong with that, we're trying to take care of family by managing our money well. But let's say that you knew to the penny the deal cost of the vehicle, would you want to pay that rate and nothing higher? How much are you willing to pay the dealer for the cost of maintaining a showroom, giving you free coffee and the kid a balloon, paying the sales manager, the bookkeeper, etc. $250? $1000? And what about profit? Are you willing to pay the dealer a profit so that they stay in business?

The somewhat amusing first reaction of many is to say they don't care about all that stuff and in particular they can skip the free coffee. That's fine, but it's a one dimensional view that will soon change if you open a business! Seriously, if the car dealer can't make a profit, why would he bother to stay in business? The same for the sales guy working for the dealer.

In practice what happens is they make almost nothing on the super well informed/I've done my homework person, and they make a lot on the impulse buyer/doesnt research person. Free market at work. But over the years I've come to value letting the salesperson/dealer make a reasonable profit in return for service, especially when we return to buy again. I've used the same car sales guy for probably 5 years now. He nows I'm a value buyer, reasonably well informed about the prices, and that I'm there to buy rather than waste his time window shopping. So in return we get down to the purchase price quickly and fairly. So you can call me a sucker for not trying to trim every possible dollar, or a good guy for playing fair - which will it be?

I've been in a number of brutal negotations over the course of my career and even when we won, it never felt like a good win because there is so much animosity by the time it's done. On the other hand I've also worked a greater number of times on negotiations where each side wanted to make sure that the other side felt like it was a fair deal because we wanted to work together. Looking back, I can see two main drivers behind the direction of the negotations. One is that hostile negotiations almost always start when one side feels it has a significant advantage and sees no reason not to use it to the max. The other is that it's much more likely to be hostile when the relationship won't continue past the end of the deal.

There's nothing wrong with working on your negotiating skills, because obviously not everyone subscribes to my play fair policy. More importantly, you have to learn how to understand what's important to them and what's important to you, and you have to know how to present your case favorably - don't expect them to read minds:-)

Think about it the next you negotiate. Will you be proud of the way you acted and for the right reasons?


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


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