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Adjusting Your Negotiating Style

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Jun 17, 2020

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My previous column contained a brief quiz to identify your relationship style. You probably negotiate the same way you generally relate to people. That column described each style’s strengths and weaknesses. We relate and negotiate with each other in three ways:

1. Friendly people move toward others with warmth, trust, and open communications.
2. Analytic people move away from them with impersonal facts and logic.
3. Aggressive people move against them with belligerence, suspiciousness, and deceptive communications.

If you haven’t identified your style, please take that quiz now.

ADJUSTMENTS ARE UNCOMFORTABLE

You naturally think your style is best and do what feels comfortable. Poker experts ignore discomfort and vary their style. Phil Ivey, a great player, even said, “I don’t have a style. I do whatever will get the best results.”

In fact, the experts’ answer to most poker questions is: “It depends on the situation.” That principle applies to both playing our cards and negotiating deals.
We’ll discuss the adjustments that extreme people should make because their adjustment needs are easiest to recognize.

If You’re Extremely Aggressive

Lighten up. Don’t convert everything into battles that make others feel like losers. Focus on the important issues, and trade small loses for major victories.

Work on the most important negotiating skill: Understanding other people. Listen intently to what they say and study their body language. Look for signs that they’re becoming so upset that they just want to fight you. Try to understand how they feel and what they want besides just money.

Be more flexible. Make your offers a little more reasonable, your concessions a little larger, and your compromises less grudging. Look for deals that make everybody feel good. Continuously remind yourself to let them save face; then make a concession or do whatever else will make them feel better.

You probably don’t want to make these adjustments. You may even think that only wimps care about these “touchy-feely” issues, and real players care only about winning. Those irrational feelings will cause costly mistakes.

Suppress your emotional need to look and feel tough and focus on getting the best results. Above all, try for a greater emphasis upon win-win.

If You’re Extremely Friendly

Toughen up. Be less generous and trusting. Accept that conflicts during negotiations are inevitable, and most of them aren’t personal. They’re just parts of the game.

Use your natural ability to build relationships, but don’t be so soft that you’re treated as a doormat.

Set a firm WAP (Walk Away Point) based on a realistic analysis of what you’ll probably get if you keep playing. Then tell yourself, “If I accept less, I’m a wimp.” It will help you to resist the pressures to concede too much.

Demand what’s rightfully yours, and try for even more. Remember, most opponents have a WAP. They’ll feel they won if they get it. Since they don’t know your WAP, they won’t know they could have gotten more. So there’s no reason to give them any more than their WAP.

Use your natural sensitivity to decide what they really want and how much they will concede. Then try to get closer to their WAP instead of leaving so much money on the table.

Occasionally, bargain hard, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Take more ambitious opening positions. Make smaller concessions. Trade concessions instead of giving them away.

Become much less open and trusting. Accept that negotiations have different rules than most conversations. Many people withhold information, and some will happily lie. Information is power. If you give it away, it will often be used against you.

Insist on reciprocity. If they won’t be open, honest, and flexible, get tougher. If they’re devious and rigid, while you’re frank and flexible, you must lose.

My recommendations about bargaining hard and communicating deceptively may seem unethical. They’re not; they’re just reasonable adjustments to the reality of negotiations.

Please remember that we’re discussing poker, not party bridge. As David Sklansky put it, “Being devious and deceitful is precisely what one wants to be in a poker game.” (The Theory of Poker, p. 129)

Without deception poker can’t exist. If we played with the cards face up, nobody would call your bets with a winner, and you couldn’t bluff with a loser. You don’t feel guilty about slow-playing monsters and busting opponents on the river, nor do think it’s unethical to steal pots. Why should you feel bad about applying the same mindset to negotiating tournament deals?

Suppress your emotional need for friendly relationships and focus on getting the best results. Above all, realize that, if you become tougher, you’ll get better deals AND most people will respect you more.

If You’re Extremely Analytic

Loosen up. Accept the obvious realities that negotiations are often illogical, that there are game-playing elements, and that emotions and “irrational” factors frequently and inescapably affect many negotiations.

Accept and adjust to the fact that most people like rituals, especially the mutual concessions ritual (I give a little, you give a little, and we slowly reach a deal). If you avoid that ritual, many people will believe: “You’re not bargaining in good faith.”

More generally, try to tune in to people. Go beyond the facts and figures, and try to understand what they want and why they act this way.

Instead of making reasonable first offers and refusing to move much, start with offers that give you substantial bargaining room and then slowly trade concessions.

Try for deals that satisfy other people’s ego and relationship motives. You may not care about those motives, but they do.

Build flexibility into your plans. “If they do A, I’ll do B. But, if they do C, I’ll do D.”

Switch your focus from your plans to what you and your opponents really want. Then consider many possible deals. Most people are much less logical than you, and some deals can seem illogical, but still work. Negotiations always involve ambiguity. When necessary, accept a non-optimal deal that satisfies everybody’s major objectives.

Since you may have ignored my recommendations to friendly people, I’ll repeat them. As David Sklansky put it, “Being devious and deceitful is precisely what one wants to be in a poker game.”

Without deception poker can’t exist. If we played with the cards face up, nobody would call your bets with a winner, and you couldn’t bluff with a loser. You don’t feel guilty about slow-playing monsters and busting opponents on the river, nor do think it’s unethical to steal pots. Why should you feel bad about applying the same mindset to negotiating tournament deals?

Above all, accept that negotiations are between people, not computers, and work on the personal dimension.

What’s Next?

We’ve identified your style, strengths, and weaknesses and recommended general adjustments. Future columns will help you to identify and adjust to other people’s styles. ♠

Alan SchoonmakerEmail alannschoonmaker42@gmail.com for information about negotiating books and training.