Negotiation Blog

Film Award for Best Negotiating Practices

By Thomas Wood

The lead up to the Academy Awards always gets me excited about seeing great films. This year Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" and Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist” were fabulous, and received 10 and 11 nominations respectively. But will they win at the 2012 Academy Awards? I hope it's not deja vu of the 2011 Academy Awards, when brothers’ Ethan and Joel Coen’s “True Grit” received 10 nominations but didn’t win. Well, True Grit definitely won Best Picture for Negotiating Practices among our team of professional negotiators here at Watershed Associates.
True Grit tested the “grit” of every character’s negotiation moxy in the various negotiations that transpired in this movie, and there were many.
The story is tried and true:  Teenage girl seeks revenge on her father’s killer, and pairs up with two strong-willed lawmen-for-hire to chase down the killer in Indian territory of the 1880s. There’s an opening scene with Dakin Matthews playing a tough and crotchety old businessman and trader, Colonel Stonehill, and Hailee Steinfeld playing the vengeful teen, Mattie Ross. As Mattie prepares to set out on her adventure, she needs resources, and she comes to the trader to negotiate for them.
Before he died, Mattie’s father had purchased and paid for two ponies from the trader. Her father had paid for the ponies, but the ponies had not yet been delivered to him and are still in the custody of the trader. Mattie’s father also had his saddle horse boarded at the trader’s stable. Along came a thief who, upon murdering Mattie’s father, stole her father's saddle horse, and left behind the saddle, the two ponies, and the less valuable horse Mattie's father had lent the thief.
When Mattie approaches the trader, her astute preparation becomes apparent. The trader is quick-witted from years of experience (and a great script), but has to determine whether Mattie has a strong BATNA (plan B), or is bluffing. Mattie uses just enough friendliness and legitimacy to her advantage, while also showing she is prepared and goal-oriented (a picture perfect example of Watershed’s mantra: be firm, fair and professional). The trader is caught off guard by this shrewd teenager, and to his disadvantage underestimates her negotiation skill and determination.
There are lots of negotiation missteps, mostly on the part of the experienced trader. There are things the trader could have learned about Mattie’s need for resources if he wasn’t caught off guard and had asked better questions. Simply by using sincere curiosity and probing more effectively, the trader could have landed a much better deal. He focuses only on dollars instead, missing low cost/high-value trades he probably could have made with the girl. He also makes other common errors in his haste, such as
  • responding to her offer in a way that makes it difficult to explore Mattie's interests,
  • negotiating against himself without waiting for a counteroffer when faced with Mattie’s various BATNAs/bluffs, and
  • declaring multiple times that this is his final offer.
And yet, the trader held all the cards from the start. At the opening of the negotiation, Mattie has nothing and the trader has everything – the ponies, the payment, the saddle, the less valuable horse, and the expertise. Mattie doesn’t beg or play the victim who needs charity. She uses many Best Negotiating Practices, among them
  • an assertive but defensible opening offer,
  • legitimacy,
  • persuasive analogies,
  • a strong BATNA, and
  • a tapered concession pattern.

Mattie has almost no power in this negotiation, but she leverages something much more potent – her skill as a negotiator – her true grit.

And that’s only one of many negotiating scenes in the Oscar nominated movie from 2010.
See True Grit again or for the first time, and test your “grit” as a negotiator by spotting all the missteps and Best Negotiating Practices interlaced in this great film.


Negotiating Tip

Don't anchor yourself: When preparing for a negotiation, remember to develop your 'ask' or opening offer first - before your goal and least acceptable agreement or walk-away.

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Negotiation Blog

Happy People Make Better Negotiators

By Marianne Eby

Inc. magazine contributor Jeff Haden gives us a list of “10 Things to Stop Doing Right Now”  to be happier. We couldn’t help but point out that if you subtract these 10 things from your negotiations, too, you’ll be happier AND a better negotiator.

Haden's top 10 subtractions on the road to happiness are no-brainers to master negotiators, so we wanted to highlight the biggies from a negotiator’s perspective:

1. Blaming - Take responsibility for your part. If your customer hasn’t kept up with its volume commitment, ask yourself – did you set the bar too high, have you trained their users on your service, what part of this is yours?

2. Impressing – It’s important to sell value – yours, your company’s, your product and service. But if all you do is promote you and yours, you will miss the golden opportunity to learn about your counterpart.

3. Interrupting – Even new negotiators know to ask a lot of questions, but it doesn’t pay off if you interrupt the answers. And fake listening doesn’t count – master negotiators listen with sincere curiosity!

4. Controlling – Even when you have all the power, trying to control the outcome of negotiations is counter-productive. Controlling the discussion or outcome ensures that you will miss opportunities to talk, to find hidden value for both parties, and thereby create a sustainable and viable agreement.

5. Dwelling – Haden tells us “the past is just training.” Negotiators, even the best, make mistakes. They do their homework and they diligently follow the best practices, but to get the best deal they are creative risk takers. Asking questions has risks. Suggesting options has risks. Showing your cards has risks. And with the risks come some mistakes. But master negotiators don’t dwell; they turn mistakes into lessons.

6. Fearing - For negotiators, fear is what keeps us from asking for what we want, the nail in the coffin for achieving a beneficial agreement. Think of the "big ask" as a way to start the conversation. If your request is defensible, then you can confidently ask for it.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate for what you want! You’ll be happier, build stronger relationships, and achieve mutually beneficial agreements.

Negotiating Tip

When negotiating via email, establish rapport first: start with a telephone call or web conference. Even better, if possible, start with a face-to-face meeting.

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