Lost Art

Harrison Ford starred in the classic movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson starred in Lost in Translation. Richard Dreyfuss played the lead in Lost in Yonkers. The television show Lost in Space ran from 1965-68. And entrepreneurs star every day in the Lost Art of Negotiation. Why is negotiation a lost art? I believe that too many of us see negotiating as a competition.

Google gives 90,500,000 results for the word negotiation so there’s no shortage of material about the subject. But I don’t want to focus on negotiating techniques – that’s not the point of this blog. Instead, I’d like to offer some ideas that may be helpful in making the negotiating process more productive.

If we start with the premise in a negotiation that we want to win, then it becomes a competition where someone (not us) is going to lose. From here we harden into our “positions” and the tension begins. There is a better way. First, we need to see a negotiation as an opportunity to solve a problem. It’s actually a dual problem – one for us and one for another party. Trying to solve just our problem may be far more difficult than figuring out how to solve for both parties. What do we do when we solve a problem? We start by clearly defining all elements of the problem. Then we catalog all of the possible solutions. Our innovation and creativity come into play at this point.

In the process of attacking the problem we establish our bedrock principles. For example we may resolve that no matter what, we will always be respectful. Perhaps we commit to avoid getting hung up on personalities. Or we may decide that regardless of how dirty the other party may play, our approach will continually reflect total integrity. Ultimately our analysis leads us to the bottom line for the most critical factors to the outcome we believe will best solve the problem for both parties.

Recently I was coaching a business owner about the potential sale of her company. I asked her what her bottom line number was and she gave me a figure. Then I asked her if negotiations led to a value that was $50,000 less than her bottom line number, would she sell. She replied in the affirmative. So we went back and forth with the $50,000 question until we finally reached an amount that she absolutely positively would not accept. The takeaway for her was that the initial figure she thought was her bottom line number actually wasn’t.

As we engage in a negotiation we listen to and understand what the other party is telling us. This information is then overlaid onto the problem we have identified and our array of solutions is applied. We avoid confrontation by working from a set of facts; seek agreement wherever possible, and constantly narrow the scope of issues.

Being in the commercial real estate business I’ve been in continuous negotiations in one form or another for more than 40 years. You can read all the books you want and watch all the videos in the world on negotiating strategies. And if you pay attention to them you can easily end up getting too cutesy. I have found that a pretty straightforward approach has been extremely successful for me. I don’t try to outthink the other party or construct a series of chess-like moves. Instead, I know what my bottom line is and I know the principles that I want to maintain. If I have to violate my principles to get to my bottom line I’ll withdraw. And I’ve learned that transparency and respect have been more valuable than anything else.

Entering a negotiation as a creative opportunity to solve a problem for both parties puts us on the same path. Bedrock principles and a clear understanding of our bottom line is then the recipe for a positive outcome.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.



Question: Sometimes I get so angry with people that I want to tell them exactly how I feel about them. Don’t you think that such honesty is always the best policy?

Answer: Well, yes and no. We have to evaluate how the other person will react to our “honesty” and we also need to understand whether we are really being constructive with our comments or simply seeking the satisfaction of telling someone off.

There have been many times over my career that I’ve felt wronged by someone and wanted to lambaste them for what they did. I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve written to such people; put them in the drawer; “slept on it,” and then never mailed the letters (or hit the Send button for an e-mail). I guess writing the letters and e-mails was therapeutic but a little voice kept telling me not to follow-through and send them.

Recently a former investor of ours was in my office visiting from another city. Toward the end of our relationship with his firm things became a bit strained. We had gone above and beyond our contractual obligations with his company and yet there was no “give” on his part. However, we went out of our way to keep things businesslike and cordial. He commented during his recent meeting with me that he respected the way we handled the situation. He pointed out that he was in our office talking to us about doing another deal with his firm because we did not burn bridges with him.

Reacting emotionally and burning bridges may feel good at the time. But in the long run it costs us relationships, friendships and money. I still get irritated with people that don’t adhere to my business principles and values. However, I’ve come to realize that making the choice to protect the relationship is much more important and I quickly moderate my emotions. Sure it’s hard to smile and keep an even tone – but we never know when that person who has caused the irritation may become our best client or even our best friend.

I’ve said for years that one of my objectives as an entrepreneur is to collect and serve as many relationships as I possibly can over the course of my career. A lot of time and effort is invested in doing this – so why would I want to throw this all away by burning a bridge with one of these relationships? Perhaps when a bridge becomes shaky or weak, the best course of action is to work to strengthen it rather than burning it.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.