Since it’s election season and Donald Trump often pins his qualifications on his negotiation prowess, this post will depart from my normal focus on solving everyday problems. Instead, I’d like to explore the qualities of the very best negotiators, comparing and contrasting them with the Trump persona we all know well.
I hope you’ll forgive the diversion, but I think it’s useful for making life negotiable.
The Donald is a very wealthy man who often attributes his own success to his negotiation skills. Since none of us knows what he does at the bargaining table, he could very well be right. For the very same reason, however, we should all pause before leaping to the conclusion that his public behaviors reflect the features of successful negotiators. Are the best negotiators carbon copies of the public Trump? Well, several decades of negotiation research would use words like the following to describe the very best negotiators; you can judge for yourself whether they also describe the public Trump:
- Humble: The best negotiators don’t brag, nor suggest that they know everything. Quite the opposite, they try to deemphasize their past achievements, knowing that braggadocio will only raise their counterpart’s hackles. Indeed, they actively shift the focus away from themselves toward their counterparts, assuming that they absolutely have to learn by listening. Out-hearing rather than out-talking their counterpart, they know, is the key to negotiation triumph.
- Enlightened: The best negotiators are concerned about their counterparts’ outcomes in addition to their own. But it’s not an act of charity—it’s the enlightened realization that making their negotiation counterpart better off tends to make them better off too. It’s the fully-rational understanding that a small slice of a big pie is usually bigger than a big slice of a small pie.
- Creative: The best negotiators approach problems with an eye to uncovering creative solutions. In particular, they spend most of their time looking for “out-of-the box” ways to help themselves and their counterparts both achieve their goals at the same time. I’m just guessing here, but building a big wall is probably not the first solution to our immigration challenges that they would entertain.
- Balanced: The best negotiators know that negotiation is not a byword for aggression. They realize that negotiations sometimes call for competitive behavior but often call for cooperation, and they know how to use both in good time and measure. Ultimately, they gauge their success by the extent to which they created value and built a relationship, not the depths to which they crushed their counterpart.
- Problem–Focused: In the words of Getting to Yes, the best negotiators focus on the problem instead of the people. In others words, they never get personal. Disaster, moron, dummy, lightweight, loser. These are not words you’d often hear them using.
Are these the qualities of the public Trump? You can be the judge. I suspect you know my answer, though I hope you also know that I don’t aspire to trash the man or his negotiation skills—with his billions and billions (and my distinct lack thereof), he must be doing something right. My goal is simply to suggest that anyone who aspires to make life negotiable by emulating the public Trump should pause and perhaps consider a few other role models first.