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Busting the Top 10 Myths About Negotiation

No, negotiation is not a competition.

Key points

  • Pervasive myths about negotiation can keep you from becoming a powerful negotiator.
  • You've likely heard that emotions have no place in negotiations. Don't believe it. Emotional reactivity has no place. Emotional investment does.
  • Do you really believe that personal relationships are not negotiations? Think again!
Source: Aisvri/Unsplash

All of life is a negotiation, yet little is taught about it. Myths about negotiation abound and, if believed, can block people from becoming powerful negotiators and prevent them from getting the best outcomes, buy-in, and relationships possible.

Awareness is the first step in debunking the destructive myths. To that end, it is worth exploring the top 10 myths and why they are so dangerous.

Myth #1: Personal relationships are not negotiations.

For most people, hearing the word "negotiation" conjures up images of boardrooms full of executives in power suits. Most people recognize business dealings as negotiations—but not so personal dealings. This misconception can stop people from bringing the necessary level of intention to daily interactions.

Recognizing that all of life is a negotiation—whether it is with kids, intimate partners, coworkers, service providers, or business tycoons—is the first step on the path to negotiating better relationships and outcomes.

Myth #2: Negotiation is a competition.

Everyone has been conditioned to see negotiation as a competition, with winners and losers. This is one of the reasons so many people resist seeing negotiation as a skill to use in personal relationships. This encourages a zero-sum approach to negotiations, which leaves little room for creative solutions that meet the highest good for all. By contrast, when a collaborative approach is used, truly seeking to understand and meet the needs of the other party, influence and persuasive abilities will be elevated and it's possible to achieve even better outcomes than anticipated.

Myth #3: Toughness carries the day.

Tied to myth #2 is the belief that toughness carries the day in negotiations, that the person talking the longest and loudest is "winning." In fact, the opposite is true. Successful negotiators are effective listeners who bring empathy to the table. The more that is understood about the other party’s needs, the better deals one will be able to broker.

Myth #4: Women are not good negotiators.

The misconceptions set out above often lead to the mistaken belief that women are not effective negotiators. And many women shy away from negotiating their best lives, believing negotiations are about toughness and competition.

Interestingly, five out of six of the key skill sets that mark effective negotiators are traits considered by most to be "feminine" or soft skills. Assertiveness, rapport-building, empathy, flexibility, intuition and trust are the top six skills most often identified as essential to superior negotiation. Studies suggest that aside from assertiveness, the other five skills are considered "feminine" traits by most. Yet, ironically, people still cling to the misguided belief that women are likely to be less effective.

Myth #5: Nice people finish last in negotiations.

The same misconceptions that lead people to believe women are not effective negotiators also lead to the mistaken belief that nice people finish last in negotiations. Seeing negotiations as win-lose propositions all about the bark and bite supports the myth. "Nice" has gotten a bad rap in recent years and is undervalued.

Nice people may actually be better equipped as negotiators, because bringing empathy, true trustworthiness, and rapport-building to the table elevate outcomes.

Myth #6: Negotiations are like poker.

The myth that negotiation is a win-lose competition spawns further destructive myths. One such spinoff is the idea that negotiations are like poker and it is necessary to hold one's cards close to the chest. This is typically counterproductive. Coming to meaningful resolutions that represent the highest good for all is challenging if everyone is in protective mode, refusing to share actual desired outcomes.

It is only through sharing one’s real needs and discussing those of the other party that opportunities arise to find creative solutions to meet those needs—often in unexpected ways. A guarded, defensive posture in negotiations triggers a response in kind. This is rarely, if ever, a strong place from which to bargain for best outcomes.

Myth #7: Never make the first move.

Another spinoff myth from the competition model is to never make the first move in a negotiation and/or that concessions are a sign of weakness. Both myths can be debunked. There are many potential advantages to making the first move.

Anchoring expectations at the outset of a negotiation can set the tone for the discussion. Set high aspiration levels and anchor expectations by sharing them early.

Likewise, planning for and making the first concession can set a collaborative tone and trigger reciprocity. People afraid to do so can be seen as lacking confidence in the strength of their position and/or negotiating abilities.

Myth #8: Emotion has no place in negotiations.

It is often said that emotion has no place in negotiations. In fact, one of the unfounded criticisms levied against women is that they are too emotional to be good negotiators. There is a difference, though, between being emotional and bringing emotion to a negotiation. While being emotionally reactive and losing the clarity required to achieve desired outcomes is dangerous, bringing the emotional resonance of one’s “why” can be a powerful motivator in a negotiation.

Understanding emotion and how it manifests for both parties is a significant advantage in any negotiation.

Myth #9: One either has natural ability as a negotiator or not.

Many people believe negotiation prowess and skills are innate and fixed traits—one either has them or not. This belief is based on a myth and inhibits people from trying out their negotiation chops.

Negotiation is a learned skill. It takes practice. Learning more about the art of negotiation and applying those skills with intention leads to better abilities as a negotiator and results in better solutions. Every new building block sets a stronger foundation upon which to grow.

Myth #10: A negotiation is successful if both sides go away unhappy.

Even some experienced mediators buy into this destructive belief. Splitting the difference as a go-to remedy is similarly a bad strategy. Successful negotiators seek the highest and best results for all. It shouldn’t be about everyone giving up items of importance but, rather, about finding how to get even better results than everyone expected.

It is important to raise awareness to bust through myths that hamper one’s ability to influence and persuade so as to get best outcomes in a negotiation.