Win-win is for losers

My friend Andrew, an excellent communications and presentations trainer (ask me if you want a discount), was about to start a session on negotiation skills with a bunch of City traders. He politely asked the guy in the front row what negotiation meant to him. “I never negotiate,” came the unsmiling reply.

A former HR director in the motor trade once told me about the biggest mistake he ever made – telling a trade union official that a key element of a wage deal was “non-negotiable”. That did not go down well.

To negotiate is to move. That is the essential point. If you are not moving from your original position, like the cock-sure City boy in the front row, then you are merely restating your position, like a scratched record, as we used to say.

Negotiation means give and take, compromise 
and being able to see things from the other 
person’s point of view. Some people will tell you that this sounds like a weak approach. “Don’t back down”, “get tough” – this is the traditional advice on the eve of a negotiation. And it is true that governments or businesses may have certain ‘red lines’ – points of principle that they cannot ignore. All the more reason, then, to be creative about those areas where you can shift from your starting point of view.

One of the worst phrases in business – and, let’s face it, there is a lot of competition for that accolade – is the “win-win” outcome. Rarely does everybody get everything they want out of a negotiation. But you can find a solution everyone can live with. It takes skill and guts to cut 
a deal. You can do it if you try hard enough.

Entrepreneurs – born or made?

Reading the remarkable story of Michelle Mone might persuade you that only a very rare type of person can 
build a successful business from such relatively humble origins. It is certainly true that some entrepreneurs are driven by deeply personal motives that those of us who have lived comfortably and quietly cannot replicate. Being on the receiving end of prejudice; growing up in poverty; being bullied at school – all these things can provide the spur to succeed.

Entrepreneurs are determined people who have a (large) appetite for risk. They do not take no for an answer. They can take setbacks and delays because they know in their heart that they are on to something. (They may be wrong, of course!) Not all of us want to take big risks or have such a high pain threshold that we can carry on taking knocks forever. But most of us can be at least a bit more entrepreneurial. We can take risks. We can spot opportunities. We can display a bit of ‘brass neck’ and take a chance. So don’t let the dazzling success of ‘true born’ entrepreneurs put you off. Anyone with a good idea, persistence, support and a bit of luck can succeed. At heart, business is simple – it’s about selling stuff for more than it costs you to produce it. So take a chance. Be brave. What have you 
got to lose?

Stefan Stern is director of strategy at PR firm Edelman and visiting professor of management practice at Cass Business School

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