Debunking the 10 Most Common Myths About Negotiating

Going through a difficult negotiation takes more than strategy and preparation technique, Understanding the difference between fact and fiction can mean the difference between success and failure in your negotiations. Over my years of training, I’ve observed the following myths about leading negotiations, and I wanted to share them with you:

1. Good Negotiators Are Born Not Made

This myth assumes that specific individuals are born with an innate ability to persuade others. Some people may appear to have a natural ability to negotiate. However, their skill is frequently the result of much effort and hours of preparation. Negotiation is a learned skill. And, like any other skill, it’s something that can be acquired and improved. As with any other craft, persistence, dedication, formal training, practice, and feedback can help almost anyone improve their negotiating skills.

2. Negotiation is Competitive

Primarily, there are two methods of negotiation: transactional, which is the trading or exchanging of ideas, positions, or things of value;  and integrative, which focuses on developing mutually beneficial agreements based on the interests of the disputants. 

While transactional negotiations inherently involve a great deal of competition (“whatever I gain, you must therefore lose”), integrative negotiating involves “expanding the pie,” so that both parties can end up with more than what they originally started. In transactional negotiations, there might be a total of 10 apples to share between us. So, if I get six, you’re only left with four. But when the negotiation is integrative, new issues can be brought to the table, which can allow those ten apples to increase to 15. Now, one of us might get eight, and the other gets seven. It’s not a 50:50 split, but we both end up with more than what we started.

A myth that often accompanies the aforementioned is that there’s no room for competition in integrative negotiations. This myth is an oversimplification. Indeed, in the most integrative of negotiations, there are three phases: there’s an information-sharing phase, where you find other issues to bring to the table, and a cooperative phase, where you try to expand the pie. Finally, the negotiation will almost conclude with a competitive stage, where you try to claim as much of the “pie” for yourself.

In summary, negotiation skills can be used to both create collaborative partnerships and help dispel potential conflicts. Creating mutually-beneficial outcomes is the mark of an expert negotiator.

3. You Must Lie to Negotiate

Do people lie in negotiations? Sometimes. But it helps to remember that negotiating is not only a skill – it’s a game. And in many games-Poker is a prime example, there’s a certain amount of “bluffing” going on. 

The definition of a lie is a substantive statement that is not true. Lies are a misrepresentation of the facts, and its intention is deception (e.g., someone saying, “I have four aces”). A “bluff,” on the other hand, doesn’t involve an explicit, untrue statement, but instead, the bluffer’s intention is short-term, and it doesn’t involve the betrayal of a reasonable expectation of trust (e.g., appearing confident as though you have four aces). 

It is crucial to negotiate with integrity, which precludes the use of out-and-out lying. When you lie, your opponent will eventually lose trust. However, being truthful doesn’t mean showing the other party all your cards. The omission of facts isn’t lying, and it’s just common sense.

4. Never Show Emotion When Negotiating

Traditionally, negotiation experts have mandated that negotiators need to be rational with their feelings. Furthermore, there is no room for emotional display at the bargaining table. However, more recent research indicates that if you appear favorable, your opponents take positive cues from you. Emotions are contagious, so it is wise to form them into a positive mindset. When humans are in a positive frame of mind, they are more likely to think creatively, and ultimately expand the pie. 

5. Nice Guys Finish Last

This line is attributed to Brooklyn Dodgers manager, Leo Durocher, who allegedly said it when asked if he had ever known a nicer guy than Giants manager, Mel Ott. The actual quote, according to The Yale Book of Quotations, was, “He’s a nice guy. In last place. Where am I? In first place. I’m in first place. The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.”

But is “nice guys finish last” true of negotiators? Big surprise-no.

Aggressive and argumentative negotiators may initially come off as confident and secure, but it’s never a good strategy long term. Most of us make our living through relationships, and relationships are challenging to maintain with a belligerent attitude. The best negotiators are those who communicate effectively with the other party. A good negotiator won’t allow the other party to walk all over them. But being antagonistic will often cause others to resist concessions because they are put off by your belligerence. Collaborative, integrative deals are much more likely to form with a cooperative rather than a contentious approach.

6. There’s a Winner and a Loser in Every Negotiation

This one is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one goes into a negotiation with a transactional, “win-lose” mindset, that’s precisely what’s going to happen. And transactional/distributive talks are, by definition, win-lose. However, within any transactional negotiation is the potential for integration. By bringing other issues to the table, both parties can end up with more than what they started with, resulting in a win-win negotiation.

7. Experience is the Best Teacher

It would be more accurate to say, “Experience is ‘a’ Teacher.” It is a common mistake to become over-confident because of your experience. Many brag that they’ve got “X-years of experience,” when what they have could more accurately be described as “one year of experience repeated X-times.” Successful negotiating often requires the ability to recognize that what worked in a previous negotiation might not work with the current one. So, while experience can indeed be a teacher, it needs to be coupled with continuing training and education, research, and preparation.

8. Never Concede First

 Here’s another old axiom that has at least some degree of accuracy. The problem is, what if the other party is using the same strategy? In this case, you wind up with two negotiators eyeballing each other, waiting for the other one to blink. The negotiation becomes inert; no one is moving anywhere. Fortunately, there’s a path through this dilemma. 

One way to thaw a frozen negotiation is to offer a minor concession on a minor issue. In so doing, you essentially loosen up the room and allow the negotiation to continue. Adding this addendum to this myth makes it valid “You should Never Concede First – On Major Issues.”

9. Small Talk Is a Waste of time

Many seasoned professionals eschew small talk. In their view, the “getting-to-know-you” game is a pointless waste of time, and has little, if any, place in business. However, this perception has changed for many negotiators. Small talk helps build rapport, develop trust, and increase the willingness to cooperate. It increases the perception of cooperation and likeability. And, at the very least, the small talk gets the other party to start answering short, seemingly insignificant questions. If they get in the habit of that, they’re much more likely to share more information later on. Most importantly, engaging in small talk often helps you to discover what the other party needs and values.

10. Negotiations Are All About Money

Granted, sometimes this one is true. But while a buyer might indicate that they’re just after “the lowest price,” the more critical consideration is almost always value. Most buyers, especially those with experience in the field, understand the concept of the total cost of ownership (TCOO), and the generally-accepted axiom, “you get what you pay for.” It’s not how much it costs, as much as it is, “what am I getting for my money.”

In a recent study, it was found, 75% of buying decisions are based on how well a negotiator communicates their knowledge, understanding, and value. Based on that, the deeper underlying needs and issues can be addressed and resolved. 

Are there any other negotiation myths I may have missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments.