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  • Jonathan Pearl

The Reasons that Negotiations Fail


It’s a truism that managing negotiations is 70% EQ and 30% IQ. If you don’t manage your own, and your opposite number’s emotions….YOU WILL LIKELY FAIL. The 2 key areas of failure are:


1) Failure to empathise.


What you think is important to your opponent is not necessarily what is actually important to them. Don’t assume you know. You need to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes and walk around in them. Remember we all tend to “project” our own feelings onto others.


Beware of deal spoilers: there could be people on either side of the negotiation table who want the deal to fail. You need to deal with their desires also.


And remember, crucially, that not to rub the other guy’s face in the dirt. Saving face is important.


2) Failure to manage the emotions of others.


The guy who’s always angry is not a great negotiator, and people tend to ignore people who can’t or won’t be reasonable.


Anger can work for you but use it strategically.


Remember to change the vibe when things get nasty. During negotiations to end the Bosnian War. The U.S. were contemplating a bombing raid. Richard Holbrooke took two of the warring parties into an aircraft hangar and had them sit at a negotiation table under the open bomb doors of a F14 jet – a reminder of what would happen if the negotiations were to come to an end without a successful outcome.


And making threats to walk away should never be made unless you really are prepared to do so. During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign then President-elect Donald Trump was one of 12 Republican candidates. Trump had got into a twitter-spat with Fox’s main anchor woman Megyn Kelly. Trump threatened to boycott a scheduled debate in Des Moines, Iowa, unless Fox agreed to replace Kelly with another moderator. Fox not only refused to replace Kelly, they openly mocked Trump on Twitter. Trump boycotted the debate and, probably as a direct consequence, he went on to finish second in the Iowa caucuses.


So before issuing a threat, carefully analyze your BATNA, compare it to the deal on the table, and then make the most rational choice—as painful as that sometimes can be. Don’t make choices based on emotion.

Watch out for the high-fives. People who let on that they believe they have won often end up losing. Don’t gloat! You may have to work with these people again.

Have a sense of humour and show it. But it’s a good idea to direct jokes mainly at yourself – people might get offended if you don’t know them well.



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