Countless times we’ve read and heard that President Trump is an exceptional negotiator. The truth is that he lacks key skills, first among them persuasion. Coercion may bring about a “win,” but if there will be future dealings with the same “loser” (using the president’s terminology), next time he or she just might be more prepared and certainly more determined to avoid the previous outcome.
Truly effective negotiators rely on persuasion, not coercion. Yes, there is a gray area between the two. As a rule, however, persuasion is done WITH someone, not TO someone. It avoids manipulation and coercion, because substantive argument is its backbone. Persuasion requires learning to manage negotiations to a preferred outcome, also beneficial to the other side, rather than bullying them into submission.
That’s why a skilled negotiator understands how words and actions shape perceptions that stand in the way of alliances. Such negotiators are always asking questions. They don’t let the past determine their present nor are they ruled by routine. They’re alert to what has remained the same and what has changed. They don’t assume they know the priorities of the other side. When in doubt, they ask.
Astute negotiators never prepare for a totally competitive or totally cooperative negotiation. Preparing for only one type causes novice negotiators to be thrown off when confronting the other. Many negotiators have given away the store because they prepared for resistance and instead met cooperation. Others have done so or walked away with nothing because they expected cooperation and found themselves facing hard-nosed tactics.
Expert negotiators do their homework. They use others’ predictability to inform their own choices — while trying to avoid giving their counterparts a similar advantage. This requires not being in a rut –perhaps relying solely on power or focusing on personal “wins” instead of what would bring about desirable outcomes for both sides.
Contrary to popular lingo on the topic, negotiation is not a macho, bring-it-on, make-my-day activity. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, the tougher negotiations are those that involve finding ways to encourage resistant others to hear you out and move in your direction. Often that means moving on some issues in their direction.
We’ve heard a lot about Trump not having enough “wins” and Republicans needing a “win” on healthcare, but little about what it would take for a good outcome that benefits the American people who need it most. Skilled negotiators don’t lose often, but they don’t win simply to win.