206-240-7678 [email protected]

Boy am I hopping mad! If you were here with me you would see the steam coming out from my ears! It is 4 pm Sunday afternoon and I was comfortably reading the Sunday New York Times Week in Review when I came across a blurb about Senator McCain chiding the Clinton administration for negotiating with the North Koreans in the 90’s. Gasp! Negotiate with someone you do not agree with!? What has this country come to?!

I do not dare weigh in on the political merits of the increasing hostilities between North Korea and the U.S. I am weighing in, however, on a more mystifying sea change: The feeling that Americans who negotiate with opponents have committed a crime tantamount to treason, whether in the political or corporate arena.

Negotiating does not equal weakness

Negotiating is not the equivalent to compromise, weakness and loss in stature. Yet, statements made by the current administration from the president, to the diplomatic corps to Congress lead Americans to believe that negotiating with someone, even purported allies, is the equivalent to compromise, weakness and loss in stature.

This feeling is absolutely hogwash! Nothing could be further from the truth.

The purpose behind any negotiation is to EXPLORE

The purpose behind any negotiation is to EXPLORE whether you are better off working towards an agreement or pursuing some other alternative. There is absolutely no harm in talking to anyone under any circumstances. Negotiations in and of themselves do not mean anything other than the opportunity to discuss shared and opposing points of view. If the opposing points of view outweigh the shared points of view you simply move on to your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Nothing is lost from having had a conversation.

Even more distressing for me as a negotiation expert and for you in small business is that this sea change has impacted your businesses in a very critical way. I’ve consulted with enough small companies, spoken at enough conferences, and talked to enough small business owners to have heard more than my fair share of stories of non-negotiable terms, conditions and contracts. And that is BEFORE the relationship goes sideways.

I am appalled at the tactics really big companies take when they face some crises and get their noses out of joint. It is especially curious considering they secretly know that they have some ownership in the crises. All the PR baloney about treating vendors and small companies as partners flies out of the window while they furiously email demand after demand, often in direct contradiction to their own written contracts! And, of course, they are not willing to negotiate. Period.

Pop Quiz

So readers, what are the motivations behind this repulsion towards negotiating?

  1. A) Negotiating means you win and I lose?
  2. B) I will give up my self esteem, pride and strength if I negotiate with someone with whom I do not agree?
  3. C) The definition of negotiation implies weak-minded compromise?
  4. D) Negotiating is the surest sign of a morally weak willed person?
  5. E) All of the Above.

I want to hear from you. Email me with your answer to this pop quiz!