Negotiations, we are frequently told, must be win-win. But for Donald Trump, they are solely about him winning. The U.S. President is a classic, competitive negotiator with a brash New York flair.
Most Canadians dislike him, particularly given his threats and tantrums against us during NAFTA negotiations. We watched as he wildly attacked North Korea and then, turning from lion to lamb, negotiated a deal that seemed a piffle, certainly not a big win.
But let us set aside our feelings for a moment. Is there something we should be learning from him? Perhaps as importantly: How might we stand up to a Trump-like bully in our own negotiations?
Negotiation specialist Martin Latz extensively studied Mr. Trump’s record before becoming President, learning he consistently used the same strategies and tactics for nearly 50 years in the real estate and TV worlds:
- Bring to the table an instinctive win-lose mentality – he intends to win and you must therefore lose.
- Set extremely aggressive goals and passionately expect to succeed.
- Use over-the-top exaggeration.
- Offer carrots to satisfy his counterparts’ interest, as with North Korea, which fits with the “getting to yes” advice of Harvard negotiations experts Robert Fisher and William Ury.
- Bluff or walk when “enough is enough.”
- Threaten a lot.
- Business bullying, which is not just threats but actions – in his case, often legal.
- Identify aggressive standards, when he can, rather than objective criteria both parties can agree is correct to help settle negotiation issues.
- Make outrageous demands and moves.
- Overtly control the agenda with aggressive tactics.
“Some of these strategies and tactics have worked. Others have failed. But he believes all of these worked. Otherwise he wouldn’t keep using them,” Mr. Latz writes in his new book, The Real Trump Deal.
At the same time, he has not exhibited some of the skills associated with top negotiators. “While he has relatively high assertiveness skills and moderate creativity, his empathy is super low. On social intuition, above average … Overall, below average,” writes Mr. Latz. And his ethics are even poorer; he repeatedly failed to demonstrate even a minimum level of ethics in his negotiations, Mr. Latz says, to the point people steered away from him in real estate deals.
That speaks to leverage, which he aggressively uses when he has it – any lever at his disposal. “Bullies pick on those less powerful than them. They rarely pick on bigger, more powerful foes,” Mr. Latz notes.
Mr. Latz’s own five Golden Rules for negotiations are tough-minded but not as one-sided as the President’s. Information is power, so get it. Maximize your leverage. Employ “fair” objective criteria. Design an offer-concession strategy, preparing for the dance ahead. Control the agenda.
Those who kept away from Mr. Trump probably have the best strategy for handling a negotiation bully. In Negotiating with a Bully, negotiations specialist Greg Williams warns against putting yourself in a position where you really need the business that will result from the negotiations with a bully. Part of your negotiations should be to diversify your business. “Don’t put yourself in a position where you really want the business. Don’t have the mindset that if you don’t get the business the world ends,” he says.
Sometimes, a person who is not normally a bully can become one in negotiations. Mr. Williams suggests putting that on the table: “Something has changed. You seem to be a little more aggressive. What is going on?”
Mr. Trump is a reminder that negotiation bullies exist. You may not want to be one, but you need to defend your interests, or evacuate if you can, when you meet one.
Improve negotiations with an imaginary friend
Negotiation experts stress the importance of finding an attractive alternative, to increase your leverage. But what if your alternative was an imaginary friend – an attractive option that you conjured up? Recent research reported on the Insead website suggests that can help you bargain, as you reap some of the benefits of the alternative.
In one of the seven studies, for example, online participants were trying to sell a second-hand CD to a potential buyer and instructed to make a first offer. One group was told that another buyer was offering US$8 for the CD, which gave them a strong alternative. Another group lacked an alternative offer. The third group also lacked an alternative but was instructed to imagine what it would feel like to have one, what this alternative would look like and how it would affect their upcoming negotiation.
The researchers – Michael Schaerer, a professor at Singapore Management University; Martin Schweinsberg, a professor at ESMT Berlin business school; and Robert Swaab, a professor at Insead – say “those who mentally simulated an alternative made a more ambitious first offer than those with no alternative.”
However, they also found there were times when mental simulation didn’t work.
First, they found the type of alternative you simulate matters. When they asked negotiators to imagine an unattractive alternative rather than an attractive one, the performance was much worse because the unattractive alternative lowered their aspirations. Second, the benefits of mental simulation didn’t come when the participants did not make their first offer (or the other party also used mental simulation). Finally, mental simulation backfired when the negotiators’ bottom lines were not overlapping and so positions were extremely difficult to reconcile. In fact, the ambitious offers from mental simulation made negotiators less likely to declare an impasse.
Meeting behaviour: Ground rules for you to follow
Here are 11 ground rules for proper behaviour in meetings, from C. Elliot Haverlack’s book, Unbundle It:
- Arrive on time.
- Be respectful of other attendees.
- No phones or computers if at all possible.
- No leaving the meeting or getting up to walk around until scheduled breaks.
- No eating unless during working meal meetings. Consuming beverages is acceptable when appropriate.
- No side conversations.
- Good posture.
- Listen intently (even if you don’t want to).
- Ask questions at the appropriate time.
- No filibustering.
- Take notes.
Where can you improve?
- Neurosurgeon Mark McLaughlin has a personal file system labelled for each day of the month and every time something pops up that’s not urgent it gets consigned to that file. First thing every morning, after meditating, he checks that day’s task, which, for example, might be to write a thank-you note.
- Entrepreneur Seth Godin says it’s essential that we differentiate between things that remind us of fear and those that are actually risky. The most valuable activities are inconvenient, fraught with the fear of failure and apparently un-do-able, but we should allocate our time to them.
- Protect your high-energy times if you want to be successful, says Sallie Krawcheck, founder and CEO of Ellevest, an investing platform for women.
- Psychologist Carol Dweck’s ground-breaking insights on fixed and growth mindsets also applies to following your career passion, new research suggests. It will be helpful if you are open to new ideas beyond your typical interests to find a passion you might be effective at rather than limited yourself to existing areas.
- Don’t make solo decisions involving people, warns leadership blogger Ron Edmondson.
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