Let’s face it. I suck at negotiations.
I’m sitting in a hotel conference room in Boston, surrounded by really sharp VPs and Presidents of corporations from around the world. (I know this by their nametags and their air of sophisticated self-confidence.)
We are all taking part in a seminar, taught by seasoned experts, on how to be a better business negotiator. It’s a cutthroat couple of days, where participants are paired off and given negotiation scenarios in sealed envelopes. Between lunches served on china plates with starchy cloth napkins, I try to scribble down the top ten strategies guaranteed to make me more shrewd and insidious at a negotiation table.
The seminar reminds me of a dating game. As time goes on, we switch partners and are given new characters and new business encounters. Our job is to make the best deal for our side, to outsmart the other guy, to not leave anything on the table. At the end of the day, everyone’s score is tallied, and we celebrate and dissect the decisive victories. I always end up on the wrong side of these strategic success stories. It’s obvious to everyone in the room that I’m too transparent, that I lack the craftiness and toughness of a true winner, the ultimate negotiator.
Flying home, I think about how I’ve represented a publishing corporation for the past 25 years. Could I be doing all this business stuff better? Should I be working harder to improve the bottom line and secure the financial success of our organization? A phrase from the seminar sticks in my head: “I don’t get what I deserve. I only get what I negotiate.”
Then I think about how my best friends are the employees, customers and vendors I am “supposed” to be driving tough bargains with. Instead, I work together with these folks to create win-win scenarios. Actually, it’s where I find friendships, and a sense of professional and personal purpose.
Glancing through the in-flight magazine, I find an ad for the seminar I just flunked. I think to myself, “Don, you’ve been darn lucky to have survived this long while being such a lousy negotiator. And it’s too late for you to change now.” Then I smile and say to no one in particular, “I suck at negotiations. Thank goodness.”