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Compromise: Every Negotiator’s Secret Weapon

October 26, 2011

In negotiations, compromise is often considered a “bad” word and dismissed as an ineffective negotiation tool. This dismissal occurs for good reason, too: effective listening skills are usually absent from attempts at compromise, which are instead rife with biased and even dishonest argumentation. I’m sure you can see what comes next – confidence breaks down on both sides of the table and the negotiations take a turn for the worse. 

Inexperienced negotiators often make the mistake of engaging in “spurious compromise” wherein a negotiator will demand something that belongs to the other party, and later agree to relinquish a portion of that demand. In other words, spurious compromise tends to be unilateral; one side gives, the other takes. However, if you ask me, both parties are still losers. For one thing, trust among the negotiators disintegrates from all of the manipulation and bluffing that are almost always present in these kinds of talks. On top of that, in situations like this the parties sometimes avoid looking for new solutions or alternatives entirely and instead deadlock negotiations. They might even postpone their talks without ever addressing what each hopes to gain. In the worst cases, stubbornness will stop negotiations all together. This is when you know that power-positioning has infected your negotiation.

How can you avoid falling into the trap of spurious compromise? Counteract it with a genuine compromise, of course! Mastering the art of genuine compromise will not only give you control of the dealing– it will also give you the upper hand. Remember these simple tips and you’ll be well on your way to Power BargainingTM:

• Establish a friendly negotiation climate free of threats or the harsh attitude to which we’ve become accustomed.

• Create two-way communication by listening and asking and answering questions.

• Chart not just your needs, but also those of your opponent. You’ll avoid fighting simply by understanding what everyone’s looking to take away from the talks.

 As you can see, compromise can truly be your secret weapon, just be sure not to unleash it for the wrong reasons.  For instance, if you find yourself in a position of inferiority or if the negotiation has been infected by power-positioning, trying to compromise may only worsen the situation. Compromise only works when both parties play on a level field.

If you start to see the power shifting to one side of the table – perhaps you notice the other party isn’t pursuing a constructive course or you’re kept in the dark about the other party’s requirements – you are facing a compromise negotiation, which, in many respects, looks like combat. Don’t panic—use your knowledge of how a genuine compromise is structured as your defense. If you want the other party to abandon his demands, you can try to say yes, but as a skilled negotiator you know that the most effective method is to offer alternatives. Try to accommodate the other party on the points where compromise is possible, but always demand something in return. This is Power BargainingTM – mild in manner, firm in substance.

This post is excerpted from Keld Jensen’s upcoming book Power Bargaining: Adding Value to Commercial Negotiations to be published in 2012.

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