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The 7 Deadly Sins of Negotiation

Understanding the simple, avoidable mistakes that sabotage many negotiations.

Key points

  • Ego frequently holds negotiators back and may manifest as a need to win, an inability to admit when one doesn't know something, or excessive talking.
  • Becoming too attached to the desired outcome could lead to a loss of perspective; failing to listen or being too reactive can damage rapport or obscure key information.
  • Being cognizant of common obstacles to productive negotiation can help increase someone's ability to influence others and secure the outcome they desire.

If all of life is a negotiation, it’s probably important to avoid the 7 deadly sins of negotiation. To clarify, these are not envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, or wrath from the Christian tradition (although avoiding those in bargaining is also pretty solid advice). The aim of this article is to give air to those simple, avoidable mistakes that sabotage most people from getting what they want.

Maruxa Lomoljo Koren / Pexels
Source: Maruxa Lomoljo Koren / Pexels

1. Ego

Ego can be the kiss of death in negotiations. Being driven by ego typically causes a loss of control of the negotiation. When someone comes from a place of ego, they are easier to manipulate, less able to assess information accurately or recognize opportunities that may arise for better outcomes, and their perspective will likely be skewed.

Ego can show up in a number of ways, some of which may be surprising.

a. Need to win

Focusing on "winning" a negotiation misses the point. Effective negotiation should virtually always be about securing desired outcomes—not beating the other party. Focusing on getting the better of the other party narrows one’s vision, like a show-horse with blinders on.

This precludes the open mind necessary to recognize creative solutions.

b. Need to look good

Sometimes (but not always), tied to the need to win is the need to look good. These buttons are easy to push, creating emotional, knee-jerk reactions that typically don’t serve as one loses perspective. It also leads to posturing, which is off-putting and can derail a negotiator from achieving their real objectives. Those who worry about showboating and always looking in control often miss the signposts for the road to get where they need to go.

c. Inability to admit one doesn’t know

Another ego tell, often tied to the need to look good, is the inability to admit when one doesn’t know something. Fear of looking stupid can lead to forging ahead with incomplete information and a corresponding increased risk of bad decision-making. Ironically, most people who resist admitting they don’t know something do so out of fear they’ll lose credibility. In fact, the opposite is true. Bluffing undermines credibility, whereas acknowledging one doesn’t know and undertaking to find out shows confidence.

d. Talking too much

Talking too much can be another sign that ego is in the room. The more one talks, the more info (and hence ammunition) they give the other party—volumes of spoken and unspoken clues dropped on a silver platter for them. If one focuses on dominating the dialogue, they miss the opportunity to gather valuable information through active listening. They also miss the opportunity to use the power of silence to their advantage. Most people are uncomfortable in silence and rush to fill the void. Using that discomfort can be a valuable tool.

e. Wanting to be liked

People who need to be liked ought to take heed. This is the other side of ego and will likely lead to giving concessions one ought not. One’s desire to be liked should never override one’s need to get where they need to go.

2. Attachment

Presumably, one goes into a negotiation because they have an objective they’d like to achieve. However, it’s important not to become so attached to the outcome that one loses perspective. The hallmark of a great negotiator is knowing when to walk away and/or being open to other alternatives. Effective negotiation isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about winning better where possible. This is a powerful place from which to bargain.

3. Reactivity

A lot of people make the fatal mistake of becoming too reactive in their negotiations. Bringing a deep emotional why is not the same thing as being emotional in your bargaining. One’s success as a negotiator depends, in part, on their ability to remain centered, calm, collected, and compelling.

4. Not Listening

A lot of people assume that the person talking the loudest and longest in negotiations is the person winning. They’d be wrong. In fact, failing to listen is definitely one of the deadly sins of negotiation. Skilled negotiators come to their negotiations in listening mode. Not only do they make a point of listening, but they actively elicit information through the skillful use of questions.

5. Jumping Straight to Business

In this busy "to-do" world, it’s easy to fall prey to the mistake of jumping straight to business, so focused on the end game that one fails to take time for the "foreplay" of negotiation. Everyone wants to matter and feel heard. Jumping straight to the heart of the content of a given negotiation can be jarring and uninviting. There are significant drawbacks to the "jump in" approach to bargaining.

Instead, try easing into negotiations. Start with small talk, or other personal unrelated topics to break the ice and ease any tension. Find some common ground or otherwise use methods to build rapport. Be engaged. Show interest. Taking a few minutes to do so before "jumping in" will make for a smoother negotiation and better outcomes.

6. Lack of Integrity

"Integrity" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but often isn’t considered with any depth.

Negotiations will almost never work if integrity is lacking. Integrity is, in part, a relation one has to oneself or aspects of oneself. Integrity is also connected to how one acts (i.e. whether morally). Both of these are key to how one shows up for negotiating and to the results one is likely to achieve. When out of integrity, one cannot show up as an effective negotiator.

7. Lack of Clarity

It may seem obvious that knowing what one wants is key in any negotiation. Yet interestingly, few people dig to ensure they have the requisite clarity going into their negotiations. In failing to do so, they undercut their strength and ability to get their desired outcomes. Getting clarity is a key part of the preparation process for any negotiation. This includes getting clear about one’s motivations and deep "why"; desired outcomes (both substantive and relationship); options; and how to build rapport, bring empathy to the table, and build trust.

Knowing these "deadly sins" is the first step to ensuring one can avoid them. The more one gets intentional about the elements of negotiation—the good, the bad, and the ugly—the more one can increase their influence and persuasive abilities. Stepping into one’s most powerful negotiator will allow one to negotiate their best life.

More from Cindy Watson B.A., LLB, JD
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