Negotiation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, I believe this to be an inherently flawed business practice. Negotiation is not an art to be mastered, rather it’s a sloppy approach to be avoided. While many consultants, authors, and trainers have made personal fortunes teaching the finer points of negotiation, it is my belief they have accomplished little more than to create legions of inept business people who view themselves as being much savvier than they actually are.

If you’re truly interested in becoming more sophisticated and effective in your approach to reaching an agreement, then I would suggest you replace your tendencies to negotiate with something more substantive…

Conventional Wisdom
There are many who would say negotiation is just part of doing business, and that you cannot be successful as a leader without becoming a great negotiator. Conventional thinking would have you believe that to be a skilled negotiator is to be held in high esteem in the world of business, and in some circles, is worn as a proud badge of honor. It would lead you to further believe if you possess a reputation as a shrewd negotiator, then you would certainly be feared in the boardroom as an adversary to be reckoned with.

WAKE UP – please don’t tell me you’ve fallen for the ego-centric propaganda supported by conventional wisdom. True wisdom is rarely conventional, nor does it encourage being a bad actor in a charade. If you find yourself negotiating you are likely doing little more than posturing, spinning, manipulating, being slick, and perhaps even deceitful. Negotiation by its nature is a zero-sum game (my gain is your loss). In other words, the goal at the outset of a negotiation is to benefit from someone else’s loss, which should be an unacceptable premise for doing business. If your goal is to be feared, to take advantage of a person/situation/circumstance, or to manipulate an outcome to meet your needs, then you may be many things, but a leader is not one of them.

Win-Win Scenarios Do Exist – But Only If You Look for Them
Sure, there are those who say “win-win” scenarios are altruistic fantasies that don’t exist, but I’m here to tell you all good agreements are in fact win-win scenarios. Negotiation is adversarial, and savvy leaders focus on expanding relationships and spheres of influence, not shrinking them by creating enemies. When you’ve concluded an agreement with someone, wouldn’t it be better to have them be excited about doing business with you again, as opposed to spending hours in reflective thought regretting the day they met you? When I hear someone reminisce about a great deal they just negotiated all I can think of is, will the deal stick, and even if it does get traction, what about the bad taste left in the mouth of the other party? While it may seem tempting to exploit the immediacy of a situation or circumstance, the long-term consequences of such actions are detrimental to your reputation and credibility.

The Solution
So, if you don’t negotiate what do you do? Try engaging in meaningful conversation – one where you listen more than you speak. Negotiations look for a victory, while good discussions look to create opportunities for others, to add value, to align interests, to understand needs, to facilitate, enable, educate, mentor, and inform. Smart leaders influence rather than negotiate. They seek the correct outcomes rather than just seeking to win. Conversations are not competitions – you don’t win them, but you should enrich them. Don’t be lazy and trick somebody just because you’re smart and you can, rather be a professional, do your homework and help people attain their goals & objectives.

I don’t know about you, but I know how it feels when someone is “negotiating” with me versus how it feels when someone is having a “discussion” with me. They are not one and the same, and the latter is definitely preferable over the former. Think about it like this – you cannot lose a negotiation you don’t become a party to. When a one-sided negotiation is taking place the other party cannot prevail as they are simply negotiating against themselves. Don’t get sucked into the flawed logic that negotiating is a tool for the powerful – it’s not.