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Bonus Focus - Treating Your Team for 'Negotiaphobia'

By George Lucas, Ph.D.

The research I have done with my The One Minute Negotiator: Simple Steps to Reach Better Agreements co-author Don Hutson has convinced us that "negotiaphobes”- people who fear negotiating - have left enough money on the table to pay off our National Debt! In every organization that depends on successful business development of new and existing accounts this affliction can create serious top and bottom-line pressure on any organization. So why is it that today so many salespeople are reluctant to advance their skills and engage in negotiations?

We discovered that this reluctance to negotiate is due to several important factors:

  • First, a desire to avoid what is wrongly seen as confrontation. In reality well-conducted negotiations minimize conflict; not increase it.
  • A fear of leaving money on the table is second. In reality there will almost always be some money left on the table. The key is to make it pocket change, and not what we call down south, "folding money.”
  • Third, the rush to just get a deal, any deal, done sooner rather than later. If you can’t manage to handle some ambiguity you will be somewhat limited as a negotiator.
  • Fourth, a lack of skill development with regard to the negotiation process. I am constantly shocked that in a room of professional salespeople or buyers, only about 20% have ever invested time and money to advance their skills.
  • Finally, negotiaphobia is caused by a willingness to simply live with the status quo. "Better the devil we know,” is an all too common mindset today, particularly after the some of the recent challenging years where in many companies the mindset switched to "any business is good business”.

Our experience clearly shows that any change in your organization’s negotiation culture simply has to start at the top of the organizational chart. I have worked with many managers who openly admit they are not great negotiators, but still expect their people to be good at this increasingly important skill. Leaders today must demonstrate the characteristics sought by the characters in "The Wizard of Oz.” They must show the brain the Scarecrow was looking for, the heart sought by the Tin Man, and the courage the Cowardly Lion so desperately needed. Your team members need to see you ensuring that your facts are collected and accurate, you have empathy for your team members in their negotiations, and you have the courage to stand your ground both in front of and behind them.

There is very good news for all of you reading this article: Negotiaphobia is a disease that can be treated. This treatment is actually pretty simple, and it involves learning various negotiation strategies, as well as the skills to deploy them. We have developed an E-A-S-Y three-step process which will get you and your team on the road to being better prepared and mentally ready to engage and succeed in negotiating for your desired outcomes.

The E in E-A-S-Y stands for engage. Most negotiations are won or lost before the first words of communication between parties even take place. Ask yourself, "Is this an encounter where a negotiation is likely or possible?” You also must understand that a negotiation is not an event. Instead, it is an ongoing process. You are always in one of three phases:

  1. Pre-deal: Collecting information and monitoring the ongoing results from the prior deal, with the decision made by one side or the other that the current agreement needs to be continued, changed, or ended.
  2. Deal: At the point of exchanging ideas and sharing needs and positions in an attempt to either keep or change the status quo. This is what most people consider the only aspect of negotiating. It is actually more in line with bargaining.
  3. Post-deal: Reinforcing the terms of the agreement, communicating impacts, and leading to the next pre-deal phase if this is an ongoing relationship. Mistakes are often made here as one side or both share information about how overly-happy they are with the deal that was made. This leaves the other side feeling that they left money on the table.

Next, you should always quickly review the four viable negotiation strategies. These strategies are:

1) Avoidance (reactive and low cooperation);

2) Accommodation (reactive and high cooperation);

3) Competition (proactive and low cooperation); and

4) Collaboration (proactive and high cooperation).

Each of these four strategies have their place in the various negotiations we face, and thus proficient negotiators know when and how to use all four of them.

The second step, "A,” prompts negotiators to assess their natural tendencies to use each of the four strategies, as well as the probable tendencies of the party they are negotiating with, to follow one of the four approaches. As you read this article, consider what your negotiation style is as it relates to the strategies mentioned. Experience shows that the best read on what strategy someone will use in negotiating with you is how they have negotiated with you in the past. Nearly all people are "one-trick ponies,” reflexively using the same approach every time. They are like a software program in that they come with default settings that they never take the time to change. If you learn to adapt your style to the situation at hand, you will enjoy greater success.

That leads us to "Strategize,” the third-step in the E-A-S-Y process. Based on the significance of the situation, one’s own tendencies, and the expected strategy that will be deployed by the other side, a person carefully selects their opening and fall-back strategies. The power and importance of preparation cannot be over emphasized here! The book "The Art of War” says it well: "One should not go into a battle they have not already won.”

A fall-back, or plan-B, strategy is a lot like having an umbrella with you. If you have an umbrella on your golf bag it rarely ever rains, but it you leave it in the trunk of your car you will get drenched. As you negotiate, don’t just look at this one encounter, but look for long-term potential. Some deals, like buying a car, are usually one-offs that direct you toward competition. There are other instances where a small opportunity today, if handled collaboratively, could lead to a much larger and recurring deal in the future.

Engage, Assess, and Strategize taken together lead us to the "Y” in the acronym; This is Your One Minute Drill. This is where you, on a regular basis, automatically cycle through the first three steps as you face any negotiation. This one-minute reflection should become just as automatic as fastening your sea tbelt when you get in to drive a car. It is a very powerful tool to make you a more effective and efficient negotiator. Certainly negotiations usually take longer than a minute; some take hours, months and even decades. Others, however, can be concluded in a matter of seconds. The E-A-S-Y process will be your guide to get your head in the game for each negotiation encounter irrespective of its duration.

Note that we call E-A-S-Y a treatment; not a cure. Negotiaphobia is like gravity. It is always there to hold you back. If you ever think you have it figured out, and you no longer need this process you will be vulnerable to it creeping back into your life. Vigilance must be your M.O. as you continue to treat your negotiaphobia and advance your success in all aspects of your life. It really comes down to the old adage, "Use it or lose it.”

George Lucas is co-author of the WSJ, USA Today and NY Times bestseller, "The One Minute Negotiator: Simple Steps to Reach Better Agreements.” Over the last 15 years he has helped negotiators on six continents advance their skills via his speaking, training, coaching and consulting. For more information, visit


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