Rational negotiators are doomed to fail

ยท 5 min read

Negotiations play a substantial role in our life on a personal and professional level.

In fact, we started negotiating as toddlers while trying to get more food or hug time from our parents way before learning how to walk or speak. How we did it? Crying was our primary weapon back then, and it worked, right?

That said, negotiating is deep in humans veins from the moment we are born. It is a skill we are practicing for a lifetime.

This makes us actually pretty experienced in it.

# Why are we lousy negotiators?

So what makes most people worse negotiators than a toddler? Why some people are considered better than others in negotiating? What are we missing?

The answer is simple. Relying solely on rational arguments makes us lousy negotiators.

# The dead-end

At some point in our adult life we started believing that if we bring a bunch of rational arguments to the table and act like lawyers then the other side will sympathize with us and eventually will give in.

I have news for you. Real life negotiations are not like "Suits" series. Things are way more complex even for seemingly small things.

The "rational arguments" strategy couldn't be more wrong. Why? Because the other side always has its own rational arguments that probably contradict with ours.

What happens then if we feel that the other side's arguments are irrational? Don't you think they are going to feel the same probably with ours?

What sounds right for them might feel wrong for us and vice-versa.

You see the dead-end, right?

# It is about the people

Most of the time the reason we cannot reach to an agreement is not about those reasonable arguments or only about the money discussions and so on. It is also about the people themselves.

Nobody wants to look weak, make a step back and seem vulnerable or even agree without giving a small fight first. Nobody wants to look easy and naive. Do you? I bet not.

The worst thing we can do during a negotiation is closing our ears and get stubborn after our rational arguments hit a wall. If this is our strategy then 9 times out of 10 we will reach the dead-end. This is game over.

# Listen and explore

In order to reach to an agreement we need to understand the other side first and their point of view.

How can we do this? By asking the right questions and letting them speak up. It is important for the other side to be heard so give them this opportunity in a gentle and open-minded way.

Remember, a negotiation is not about winners and losers. Hollywood's movies probably have given us a totally wrong impression about this topic.

Negotiating is all about finding common ground and reaching to an agreement that is beneficial for both sides. The winner is the agreement itself.

If you are searching for a 100% win, then look for a lawyer to resolve the conflicts you have but this is a different story that has nothing to do with our story here.

That said, open-ended questions starting with "How" or "What" are helpful while the ones starting with "Why" should be avoided.

Some examples are:

  • How are we supposed to do this?
  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What is the main issue you want to solve here?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face?
  • How does this affect things?
  • How does it fit into what the main objective is?

"Why" sounds bad as if we try to blame the other side which is like shooting our leg in a negotiation. You 'd better stay away from it.

# Dealing with No

It is inevitable to come across some big emphatic "Nos" while negotiating.

The other side might want to make clear that this is not going to happen and block your way.

Often, an emphatic "No" kicks off the actual negotiations though.

Now that the other side expressed their feelings they are much more open to hear you or even make a step back for one of your demands.

This is because people tend to feel safe from a psychological point of view after setting some clear boundaries.

Learning how to deal with "Nos" is a big step to master negotiations and definitely not an easy one.

# Conclusion

When we rely solely on rational arguments while negotiating, we are heading directly to the dead-end zone which is a game over.

Losing our temper of course, is an excellent strategy to ruin the negotiations.

Ignoring or even disrespecting the people we have in front of us, their feelings and inner thoughts is the main reason we are unable to reach to an agreement. We need to show respect and listen to them.

Usually, there are hidden obstacles that stand in our way so our job is to spot them and then maneuver accordingly.

These might be details we miss, wrong calculations from both sides, ignorance, egos, lack of authority, inexperience, fear of failure, inability to make decisions, trust issues and many more.

We need to stay calm while trying to spot these and then shape our plan accordingly in order to reach to an agreement that will benefit both sides. Cheers!!

An excellent book you can read regarding this hot topic is Never split the difference by Cris Voss.

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