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To Negotiate or Not Negotiate

By Ed Brodow

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How do you feel when you have to negotiate? Unfortunately, most of us do not enjoy the process of making deals and so we try to avoid confrontation. This is counter-productive, as life demands that we interact with other people and attempt to resolve our differences with them. In fact, the way you negotiate will determine the extent of your success as a human being. People who have mastered the art of negotiation often have an easier time on this planet than the millions of lost souls who have not.

Let’s consider why so many people hate to negotiate. I have always maintained that this negative attitude simply stems from the perception that a negotiation is a contest, which can’t be won unless someone else loses.

But the thought that someone has to lose can produce anxiety because it means that the person to lose may be you. Some people become consumed by the fear of losing, thinking about what might happen if things don’t go their way. Before they know it, their stomach is tied up in knots and they feel like they are going to be sick. This is why so many people hate to negotiate.

Some people believe that Donald Trump is the consummate negotiator. “You’re fired!” exclaims Trump on his popular TV show The Apprentice. Trump represents the old-style, in-your-face approach to deal making.

In my Negotiation Boot Camp® seminars, I often use Peter Falk’s classic TV detective Columbo as a better role model for a negotiator. Why? Columbo is known for keeping a leash on his own ego. He asks questions, listens to others, and solves problems. Columbo is a reasonable man with a strong sense of humility. Unlike Trump, his objective is uncovering the truth, not winning a war of egos.

In place of the Trump model, I propose a collaborative approach to negotiation in which both sides can consider themselves winners. This eliminates the anxiety over the outcome and allows us to enjoy the process. Contrary to popular belief, negotiation is not really about winning, it is about collaborating.

The collaborative approach is called cooperative, or win-win, negotiation. Win-win is a non-confrontational method of negotiating in which the participants cooperate to reach an agreement that meets the needs of both parties. Win-win enthusiasts say, “If the other side isn’t happy, you haven’t won.” In fact, win-win negotiation is no longer about winning at all. It is about sharing, cooperation, and mutual understanding. It is about listening to each other’s problems and caring about the results. Its focus is not on winning but rather on finding a mutually satisfactory solution. Look at bonobos and chimpanzees. Bonobos are a chimp-like animal species of primate that live south of the Congo River in Africa. They are like chimpanzees that have attended finishing school: somewhat more elegant, sensitive, intelligent. Although bonobos share ninety-eight percent of their genetic material with chimps (and humans), they differ from chimps in one significant area: The way they deal with conflict.

While chimpanzees are hostile, bonobos diffuse conflict by using their sexuality to keep the peace. Hostile emotions are kept in check by frequent love-making. The expression, “Make love, not war,” applies in a literal way to these clever (and frisky!) animals. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that humans should resolve conflict by having sex. I am merely pointing out that bonobos have discovered peaceful ways of getting along with each other. They remind us that we have a choice of how to behave when we interact. We can choose to be hostile and chimp-like, or we can opt for a more peaceful, bonobo-like approach to settling our differences. Win-win negotiating, in other words.

So the good news is that you don’t have to be Donald Trump – or any other larger-than-life personality whose aggressive boardroom style reduces his adversaries to simpering, blubbering idiots – to be successful at negotiation. What people don’t realize is that subtlety can be equally effective. You don’t have to be the class bully to get what you want – you just need to understand the rules of negotiation and how to manipulate them. Anyone can be a world-class negotiator if they do their homework, pay attention to a few basic rules, and change the focus from winning to collaborating.

One more thing. It is often suggested that men are more aggressive than women. Women are thought to be more passive, and therefore ill equipped for confrontation. So, some claim, men make better negotiators than women. After conducting seminars on negotiation for twenty years, I have concluded that some men are better negotiators than most women, and some women are better than most men. In other words, generalization only leads to folly. The idea that the sexes are intrinsically different is a sneaky way of placing limitations on women. The important thing, whatever your gender, is to create a negotiation style that is in synch with your own personality.

Ed Brodow Picture
Ed Brodow is a motivational speaker and negotiation guru on PBS, ABC News, Fox News, and Inside Edition. He is the author of Negotiation Boot Camp: How to Resolve Conflict, Satisfy Customers, and Make Better Deals(Doubleday). For more information on his keynotes and seminars, call 831-372-7270 or e-mail [email protected], and visit

Copyright © 2011 Ed Brodow
Copyright ©   2011  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (June – July, 2011)