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Ask The Negotiator
John Baker
John Baker has well over thirty years of active negotiating experience in educational, (USA) Fortune 100 corporations and small business companies. He has negotiated collective bargaining agreements both for unions and for management. Dr. Baker’s experience includes agreements across a broad range of negotiation areas, including marketing alliances, purchase and sales contracts, acquisitions, joint ventures, non-profit and government services agreements and even the peaceful conclusion of student protest sit-ins on more than one occasion. He holds a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University (USA).

And now, this month’s letter…

“Everything is negotiable” … A brief commentary

From: Ellen (USA)

Dear Negotiator:

Do you think the saying that “everything is negotiable” is really true?

Dear Ellen,

Old sayings that continue throughout the years, in my view, usually are based on truth, but the devil is always in the details. This one is no different.

Human history is filled with negotiated agreements on every possible topic, some even concluded against incredible odds as religious testaments record negotiations between Divine spirits and human beings. Now, those were cases in which the power between the parties was far from equal.

Essentially, this claim that “everything is negotiable” is a statement of possibilities rather than probabilities in any given situation. It needs to be read in that manner.

Often, we presume that some items are not negotiable when they really are topics of potential negotiation if we choose to make them so. The issue is not whether because of their category the matter is off the table, but whether or not there is a reasonable probability of success and whether its pursuit is worth the cost in time, human effort, treasure and potential risks.

Human history is studded with tales of released hostages, forgiven debts and second-chances won against all likelihood of success by negotiation. It is also replete with failures in similar situations.

The critical element is, of course, the decision of the parties to enter into negotiation, the willingness and opportunity for the parties to engage in a dialogue and their authority, ability and integrity to implement an agreement. These same elements determine the negotiability of all topics.

Given these caveats, everything controlled by the parties is negotiable. These prescriptions are not minor ones of course. Let us briefly touch upon these factors as they apply in a more mundane world.

Negotiators who tackle “impossible” situations and succeed in altering their outcomes believe that “everything is negotiable.” Indeed, often it is that belief that makes them succeed in the endeavor simply because they are willing to try.

These same negotiators understand that “corporate policies,” that glorious phrase that seems to preclude appeal to all comers, are nothing but constructs that are themselves subject to change through negotiation. They understand also that there is no use in negotiating with the telephone clerk in Bangladesh to change a policy promulgated from a headquarters in New York. They move through the hierarchy to authority for the negotiation.

These same negotiators also understand that negotiation requires give and take to be successful. They create packages from apparently singular issues, recognizing that it is by breaking heretofore single items into their relevant component elements that makes a deal not only possibility, but a negotiable entity.

These same negotiators recognize and evaluate the requirements for the investment of human capital and treasure as well as the risks before entering into negotiations. Given all of this, everything is negotiable. Does every negotiation succeed? Of course, not. Is every negotiation worth the effort? No. Are all matters negotiable? I think so.

The issue for the negotiator is, therefore, not whether all matters are negotiable, but rather whether this particular matter should be negotiated and if so how to do it. The answers to these questions comprise the real stuff of the art of negotiation.

Good luck,
John Baker

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