I have seen some excellent negotiators over the years, but I must admit I’ve seen some really lousy ones too. At least I think that’s what I’ve seen. But since I don’t necessarily know what my counterparties have sought in the negotiations, I cannot be entirely sure.
Some negotiators are impressive. They are high profile “rock stars” and they can control and dominate the entire negotiations. They seem to know everything better than anyone else in the room and they have the answer to every question.
Other negotiators play a less visible role and may even have a quite low profile. They are listening and asking questions. They do not claim to have all the answers. They may seem untouched and unprovoked by attempts to push them around. At the same time, they may appear genuine, and they may be skilled at building and earning the trust of their counterparty.
However impressive they may be, it is not the “rock stars” that have left the greatest impression on me. Sure, their act may be enjoyable to follow, but they do not necessarily facilitate the best possible outcome for themselves or their counterparts. Many times their ego may come in the way of earning trust and creating an atmosphere of working together towards a good solution for both parties.
When thinking about what makes a good negotiator great, regardless of style, I’d emphasise one thing above all else. An excellent negotiator always sees multiple potential desirable outcomes from the negotiations.
It means that an excellent negotiator does not engage in positional bargaining. An excellent negotiator has a sophisticated understanding of what their key points are, with a high degree of granularity, and they know what is acceptable to them.
Having this understanding allows the excellent negotiator to relax in the negotiating room. The excellent negotiator does not have to force his counterpart to accept their terms. They know that they have many alternative good outcomes. That is why they can focus on the counterparty, on understanding opposing arguments and seeing the interests behind them. They have the time to analyse the people in the room, see the emotions in play and read how to influence their counterparty.
So, the one thing that to me distinguishes a great negotiator from a good one is definitely – CREATIVITY. Creativity allows the excellent negotiator to identify and even create several alternative desirable negotiation results, each of which satisfies the needs on his or her side of the table.
Against this background, it is ironic that many people see us lawyers as people with very limited imagination and creativity.
Let’s prove them wrong!