Choose to Lose - techniques of negotiation


  • Author Ralph Goldsmith
  • Published May 6, 2010
  • Word count 1,713

Negotiation and Conflict

Conflict is a fact of life. In theory we negotiate in order to avoid conflict, but is that really the case?

Think for a few minutes about how you view the link between conflict and negotiation. Are the two mutually exclusive? Is conflict a part of negotiation or does conflict come about because negotiation fails? Is negotiation the alternative to conflict? Does conflict only come about because when we don’t negotiate?

In order to reduce the amount of conflict that you feel, and to make sure you win your negotiations every time, let’s look at a few principles and potential approaches to negotiation.

Principles of Negotiation

If you are negotiating and you get what you want then you win. If you fail to get what you want then you lose.

In a negotiation between two parties then, broadly speaking, there are 2 possible outcomes. These are Win / Lose and Win / Win.

The difference? If one party gets all of what they want and the other party doesn’t then it’s a Win / Lose. If both parties get (some) of what they want then it’s a Win / Win.

Research shows that, in a single round of negotiations, the party that goes for Win /Lose, and wins, wins big.

Imagine this as a scenario. You are selling tee shirts on a market stall and a customer asks "how much for a tee shirt?" You reply "five pounds." The customer says "that’s too much. I’ll give you three" and you reply "no the price is five."

If you win this negotiation you win big because you get all of what you want.

In contrast, if you went for a Win / Win situation it could look something like this. The customer asks "how much for a tee shirt?" You reply "five pounds." The customer says "that’s too much. I’ll give you three" and you reply "I can’t do it for three. The customer then says How about meeting me in the middle, four pounds?"

If you win in this scenario then you win less than in the first scenario.

So why would you go for Win / Win?

In the two scenarios, how does the other party feel? In the first scenario will they be happy and satisfied with the deal, or are the likely to feel a little bruised and resentful?

Research has shown that over many rounds of negotiation between the same parties the people going for Win / Win will actually win much more than those that go for Win / Lose all of the time.

This is because, if you have gone for a Win / Lose negotiation to start with then the other party is likely to enter into any subsequent negotiations with a much harder stance whereas the parties that have already established a Win / Win relationship and done the deal can move on to bigger things

"So how much is that fleece?"

"Fifteen pounds."

"You’ll have to give me a better deal than that"

"OK. I can do two fleeces for twenty five pounds."

"What can you do three for?"

Now, these guys are really starting to make some progress.

If you look back at the dialogue for the Win / Win scenario, can you spot what the seller who was choosing Win / Win did to indicate this?

"I can’t do it for three" was a signal that they are open to a Win / Win scenario. It means "make me an offer. I’m willing to do a deal."

The key to a Win / Win negotiation is that both parties indicate to each other that this is their intention.

So, as a general rule, if you want to have a longer term relationship then Win / Win is the best outcome to go for.

Peeling the onion

A technique often used by experienced negotiators is to treat the deal like an onion and ‘peel’ it one layer at a time. Instead of going for the whole Win / Lose from the beginning they go for several smaller wins along the way.

Here’s how it works

"How much is it to rent that car for a day?" The supplier provides a price. "OK, but that’s just your normal rate off of the rate card, what’s the best daily rate you can offer?" The customer is indicating that they are not naïve and do not just accept the first price quoted. When the supplier provides a better price the customer responds "that’s better. How much for a weeks rental?" Now the customer is asking for a bulk discount. If they had declared up front that they wanted the car for a week they would have lost the chance to peel another layer. A price for a weeks rental is quoted. "What discount can you give me for cash?" Another layer peeled, and so on.

So, imagine yourself in a negotiation up against a really experienced negotiator, someone with lots of experience who is comfortable with conflict.

As the negotiation starts you both give signals that this is to be a Win / Win negotiation. They then begin to peel away.

You concede the first layer expecting them to concede the next one. That is after all what a Win / Win negotiation is all about. Isn’t it?

But at the second layer they indicate that this one is really important to them, so you concede this one as well.

At the third layer they indicate that there can be no concession on this point.

Is this still a Win / Win negotiation?

What do you do now?

Remember they are an experienced negotiator, if you switch to a Win / Lose negotiation now, are you likely to win? To make matters worse you have already conceded at least two points, they are well in the lead.

So what can you do?

Choose to lose

Many inexperienced negotiators will at this point choose a Lose / Win scenario. In other words they will lose the negotiation giving further concessions in order to avoid conflict.

Not an ideal scenario is it? Your opponent gets everything they want, you fail to get what you want. Not only have you failed in what you set out to do but the chances are you will feel bad about it.

However choosing to lose can be a valid scenario in a negotiation where the other party has switched from a Win / Win to a Win / Lose approach. The important thing is TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY WILL LOSE AS WELL!

Don’t settle for a Lose / Win. Start playing for a Lose / Lose.

In any negotiation both sides want something. What is it that the other party wants? Discover what is that they don’t want to lose and make sure that, if the negotiation continues this way, that they will lose it.

In most cases, faced with a Lose / Lose situation the other party will return to a Win / Win approach in order to ensure that they do not lose what they want.

This is a simple technique to apply once you understand how it works and it requires:

Listening skills

You need to listen and spot the change from Win / Win to Win / Lose


You need to think up front about what the other party does not want to lose.

Presence of mind

You need to keep your cool. It’s not for nothing that losing your temper is call ‘losing your head’. Be calm, icy calm. Think about how a police officer may deal with a violent dunk. While the drunk gets angry and swings wildly into action, the police officer will keep their cool and use their skills and training to get the upper hand.

Do it for real

Be prepared to actually end the negotiation as a Lose / Lose. Don’t try to bluff or pretend. The experienced negotiator will spot it.

Level of conflict

Who sets the level of conflict in any negotiation?

If your opponent is ruthless then you must also be ruthless. If they are conciliatory then so can you be. It is your opponent that sets the level of conflict. You have to match it

It also requires that you accept some fundamental principles

Work is not a popularity contest

We all want to be liked, it’s only human nature. However we cannot base all of our decisions on what will make us popular. Remember who sets the level of conflict? It’s not you but you need to match it.

Things might get worse before they get better.

Sometimes we have to accept a bit of short term pain for the longer term benefit.

Everything can be a negotiation

We always think of negotiation as when we are buying or selling something but it can also be about management peoples performance, delegating work, being delegated to, dealing with complaints and much more. The principle is the same.

So what are the benefits of this approach?

It minimises conflict

Once people realise you are determined to go Lose / Lose they will normally not test you on this. Remember that people who shift a negotiation from Win / Win to Win / Lose do so because they want to win. This is what they want more than anything. If you can guarantee that they lose then they only have one choice if they want to win, and that is to revert to Win / Win.

It eliminates weakness

Once you start to think like this then you will never have a weak position in any negotiation. If there is to be a deal then the other party always wants something. Find out what that is and be determined that, if the deal is not going to be a Win / Win then they will lose what they want. If you do this you will be unbeatable.

So, next time you are going into a negotiation, whatever it may be, do a bit of investigating first. Find out what the other person doesn’t want to lose. Listen for the signals about what type of negotiation this is to be and, even more importantly listen for the signals that the type of negotiation has changed. Be prepared to Choose to Lose and you probably never will.

Ralph Goldsmith is a New Insights certified life coach of high distinction. New Wavelength Coaching offers support to individuals and business seeking to make positive change

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