The Negotiator Magazine

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The Myths of Negotiating

By Henry H. Calero

After Gerard L. Nierenberg wrote The Art of Negotiating in the 1968, quite a few books on negotiating followed including the ones I authored or co-authored, Winning the Negotiation, Negotiate the Deal You Want, and The Human Side of Negotiating. However, the message in many of the other works was that negotiating was looked upon as some sort of a game instead of a process. In fact, one book was entitled The Negotiating Game.

Negotiating is a game

Let’s compare a game and a process first before making a decision. A game is structured to have winners and losers, whereas in a negotiation both sides may achieve their individual goals. All games are regulated by rules that dictate what players may or may not do, while negotiations have absolutely no rules that govern behavior or conduct. Furthermore, all games have time limits or provision for overtime in the event it is needed, while negotiations end when they end regardless of how long it may take. Perhaps we might come up with other dissimilarities, but I believe these three are sufficient to realize that negotiating is definitely not a game … but a process, like life.

Needs and wants are the same

The only reason individuals negotiate is because they have needs and it is through the process they hope to fulfill them. Therefore, one might state “negotiating is fundamentally a process of satisfying needs.” It is very difficult to try to negotiate with someone who does not have needs. If you cannot create some needs they are unaware they have, you might as well go home and try something else.

For example, I have a very wealthy friend who saw an old Victorian home in San Francisco and fell in love with it. He parked in front of the house, walked up and rang the front door bell. An elderly lady opened the door and he handed her one of his business cards and told her he was interested in buying her home. She smiled and told him she was not interested. However, since my friend does not accept “no” in any situation, he persisted to no avail.

For several months afterwards, with the help of several real estate agents, he continued his efforts to buy the home without any success, until he finally gave up. Afterwards, when we sat down for lunch and he told me the whole story, I reminded him of something that I had advised at a business seminar on negotiating I conducted for his company about needs being the cornerstone of all negotiations. And, that if they don’t exist and we can’t create them, we have to “throw in the towel.”

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March 2005