Negotiating with someone like Trump

Negotiating with someone like Trump

John Bittleston wrote an opinion article on negotiation tactics in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. This was published in The Business Times on 9 May 2017, and the full text is below.

DONALD Trump negotiated his way to the White House. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The fact that most people don’t wish to use dishonest negotiating tactics doesn’t mean they shouldn’t understand them.

Many forms of communication are actually negotiations. Having a row with your partner, making a sales pitch, writing a resume are all forms of negotiating a better deal for yourself from the other party.

However, in today’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, the bargaining rules have changed. We are now negotiating in the “Post-truth Era”, which has seen a breakdown of trust on both sides.

“Alternative facts” may seem a joke but they are very real and extremely disruptive.

How do you negotiate in a scenario where the goalposts have not so much been moved as abolished? Do we need to abandon our negotiating standards to cope in this VUCA world?

Here are some negotiation situations you may find yourself struggling with:

Negotiating in a “David vs Goliath situation”

Innovation is the new sexy. Startups are today’s must-have. Everyone wants to work where you can dress in T-shirts, choose your own time and learn from the top boss – even if you’re just an intern.

When it comes to negotiating, startups and SMEs can be at a disadvantage.

They can beg for sponsors, of course, but that is short-term and unsatisfactory for the recipient. Negotiating with a Goliath if you are a David requires that you are clear about your advantages, not just your disadvantages, which are obvious.

Smaller companies are quicker on their feet when negotiating. They can more easily adapt to changing requirements of their bigger opponents. Their united front is genuine; the apparent unity of a bigger company always masks dissentions.

Small organisations can be nimble in finding others to buy their story. They can have better and faster access to the media and, if they have got their media relations in order, they will get positive support when the bigger, more ponderous company may get only reluctant compliance.

Giants take a position and stick rigidly to it. Modifying or changing it takes a lot of effort. If it is a major issue it may have to go all the way to the top. That can take a long time. SMEs and start-ups don’t have to show such a consistent hand.

Four rules for negotiating with Goliath

First, be very clear what your “three-line whip” is – what you ideally want (very specifically), what you expect to get (realistically), what your walk-away point is (absolutely).

Second, know as much as you can about (a) the company’s position on the subject about which you are negotiating; and (b) the person you have to deal with. Lawyers in a courtroom depend on their briefs. You depend on yours just as much.

Third, get yourself trained to read people. Most of those conducting negotiations think about what they are going to say, what they want and the outcomes they expect to achieve.

All that is already in your mind from the brief. The process of negotiating is about reading people minuteby-minute.

Handling someone requires creative, imaginative interpretation of their position, their mood and their susceptibilities. You can learn to read people quickly.

Finally, stay focused but remain open-minded. You’ve got your “three-line whip”. Play flexibly within that. Remember, you are light on your toes; they are dancing in clogs.

Dealing with a “Donald Trump”

When you have to negotiate with someone who is unreasonable and uncompromising, they may make outrageous demands.

Winding up the emotions of the other person is a well-established tactic. Don’t fall for it. It is not a personal attack on your character – and even if it is, they only do it to win. You stay calm to win.

Do not simply stand up and walk away. That is defeat. Be politely, calmly unreasonable back. And if they walk away, don’t fret.

The best business negotiations I have done all involved the other party walking away at some point. If they want what you have, they will come back. Patience is still your best negotiating tool.

Negotiating when you do not have all the facts

When “alternative facts” become the style of your opponents, do you resort to lies to deal with this type of negotiation? The answer is absolutely not.

A much under-used technique is to ask your opponents for the information you lack and then question their reply it if you think it may be wrong.

They are trying to confuse you with false information. You confuse them with blatant ignorance. Played well, this technique will lead them to question their own knowledge and to suspect that you know more than you do.

Survival of the species does not depend on our abandoning the rules of society, it requires us to outwit those who do. The challenge is “can we negotiate to win and keep our self-respect?”

Whether we can or not, we must.