“I know how to hurt, I know how to heal.

I know what to show, and what to conceal.

(Garbage, title song “The World Is Not Enough”)

During one of my first negotiation trainings, we were practicing two on two working a Harvard case. Me and my buddy got completely pulled over the table by one of our colleague rookie Purchasing Managers. We felt completely lost in the 45 minute exercise, and when we returned to the big room and saw all the groups’ results listed on a flip chart, ours looked so bad we thought we’d get relieved of our jobs on the spot. But then during the review round, our observer told our colleague: “You didn’t stick to the case facts, you just lied and cheated in the negotiation. We don’t lie at P&G Purchasing.” To which she responded (and I need you to read this with the best Italian accent you have in your head): “It’s not a lie, it’s transformed reality!”

As a rule, professional negotiators don’t lie. Credibility is their stock in trade, and they tend to have short and unsuccessful careers if they are found fundamentally misrepresenting facts or making threats they can’t back up (aka bluffing). But the skilled negotiators are sure as hell masters in transformed reality. This is called “positioning”. Taking what they say at face value is a mistake, and we’ll now proceed to dissect it in more detail. The opposite of truth isn’t a lie but a mystery.

FIELD – Value transaction

CATEGORY – Negotiation tactics

DAMAGE – Ranges from the relatively benign to deeply problematic. “Your competitors have been very aggressive in stealing market share from you” is just a friendly, relationship-preserving way of positioning “we decided to reduce the amount we’ll buy from you”. But do you believe your competitor offers a lower price than you do when a buyer says “My advice to you is to reconsider your pricing in light of how your competitor is currently positioned”? If this is enough for you to reduce your pricing, I’m afraid you may be negotiating with yourself and you’ll leave a lot on the table.

SOPHISTICATION – “Rookie”. Normal people could be forgiven, but amongst professionals this is a beginner’s mistake. Commercial negotiators are not the only practitioners of professional phraseology. The art of diplomacy is said to consist of saying something when there is nothing to say, and saying nothing when there is something to say. And central banker Alan Greenspan allegedly declared that “if you think you understood what I was saying, I must surely have misspoken.”

DETECTION – “Default”. Just start from the assumption that what you just heard is not an outright lie, but certainly not the entire unconcealed truth either.

AVOIDANCE AND EVASION – “Do the job”. Positioning statements are to be probed, not believed. They are a starting point for questioning with the intent of drilling down from positions to underlying issues to base interests. Which is a large part of the negotiation skills. Depending on where you want to take the negotiation, you can probe with precise questioning to establish facts (“Can you clarify for me whether this means I don’t currently have the lowest price, yes or no?”) or gather more information on the underlying issues with open questions (“Can you tell me more about your rationale behind the things you just said?”)

EXPLOITATION – “A blessing and a curse”. Dealing with somebody who isn’t very good at unscrambling your reality distortion field can be wonderful and lucrative, especially if you negotiate simple deals and won’t meet again. But to jointly shape mutually acceptable trade-offs of some complexity starting from incomplete information on both sides, you won’t get very far without a skilled counterpart.

TAGS – #purchasing #sales #negotation #tactics #transaction #rookie