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Be a negotiator – tinkle the ivories!

David Bannister
Negotiation Piano

I read a recent letter to the “Times” newspaper which told of a man who no longer wanted a piano he owned.  He put it on the driveway to his house with a sign on it indicating it would be available free to a good home.  No takers.  So he changed the sign to say “piano for sale - £100”.  It was stolen overnight.

The story reminded me of an experience of my own when I was consulting to large international law firm.  A senior partner told me that he and colleagues offered free client seminars on relevant topics on which they were expert.  He lamented the fact that, despite booking on the seminars, many clients cancelled at short notice or did not turn up and did so often without apology.  “Try charging them” I suggested.  His response was that my suggestion did not make any sense – if they would not come to a free seminar, they clearly would not come if they were charged.  I persisted and he said he would consider the change (more to prove me wrong than because he believed me, I suspect).  A few months later he sought me out when I was at his office to say that both take up and attendance at the seminars had increased despite the charge.  Not only that but clients stayed for lunch and more useful contact was made.  “Why?” he said.  I suggested that the clients perhaps thought that they might miss something valuable because the price somehow quantified a value.  Human psychology is a funny thing, but I am sure that was the reason.

The issue of value and how we create it is an important one for all of us who negotiate.  We know from our extensive studies that giving things away during a negotiation not only elicits indifference (as with the piano) it even engenders greed – “Give me more!”.  Like my lawyer client, the more we work to show the value of what we have to offer to those we negotiate with, the more we provide ourselves with the capital for our negotiated deals.  Also, like my lawyer client, this is increasingly true when we are under pressure.  Scotwork’s Negotiating Capability Survey shows us that the more unskilled negotiators feel that the other party has an advantage, the more likely they are to offer them the negotiator’s equivalent of a free piano and the less likely the other party is to be impressed by it.  Remember to explore value to the other party, emphasise and exploit it by asking for something in return for anything you offer equivalent to the value the offer represents to the other party – even if really, it’s something you don’t necessarily place great value on any more.  Be a negotiator, think piano!


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