The Biggest Sin of All

Published: Oct 02 , 2014
Author: Alan Smith

What is the worst thing you can do when negotiating? Lots of things I guess but probably the most obvious one of all is a lack of preparation.

Last year was the 30th anniversary of the bestselling book by Chris Ryan, Bravo, Two, Zero. I’ve got to be honest when it first came out I did not read it. I thought it would only be of interest to military types and frankly was a bit embarrassed to read it on the train or tube, which was my main reading time back then.

Then came the Kindle. Brilliant device. You can read anything you like and people have no idea what it is, could be Kipling or 50 Shades. I suspect that more likely to be the latter than the former.

I decided to go back to Bravo, Two, Zero and give it a go.

For those of you who don’t know, Ryan was an SAS soldier who was part of a team dropped behind enemy lines in Iraq to destroy Scud missiles in the Gulf war. The story is a brutal reminder of what happens in times of conflict, something we should all remember in the current environment.

The mission itself was compromised by the fact that they were spotted by a goat herd and his flock and had to cut and run.

As any negotiator knows all plans for conflict rarely survive contact with the other side, but the thing that stuck most with me was the massive amount of preparation and planning that went into the mission.

The team spent weeks and weeks planning for all eventualities. They had well defined roles, key signposts as to how to measure progress and how to extract themselves if the situation changed.

They planned how they would destroy the Scuds by placing explosives inside the service hatch and considered how the hatch would open. Would it open left to right, right to left, up to down, down to up, what would they do if it was welded shut. In short, everything was prepared for.

Ryan claims that this meticulous planning allowed them to react more creatively to any situation that they encountered, interestingly even ones for which they had not considered. The act of thinking around all situations made them more open to all eventualities.

Much preparation in negotiation does not have this level of rigour. Often we face preparation that is along the lines of lets go in and see what happens. Not very SAS, really.

There are lots of things you should be considering when planning for your next negotiation. You can watch the video below to see what the 7 deadly sins of negotiation preparation are.


To use the military jargon, failing to plan is planning to fail. Don’t fall into that trap.

Alan Smith


Alan Smith

About the author:

Alan Smith
My background is marketing and advertising. After graduating in Economics I entered the agency world to become, at 28, MD of London's largest independent below-the-line marketing provider.

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