Negotiations in the News: Lessons for Business Negotiators

Negotiations in the news can offer business negotiators valuable advice on how and how not to conduct themselves. Negotiation experts analyze the negotiating style and influence of U.S. president Donald Trump.

By — on / Business Negotiations

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What can business negotiators learn from negotiations in the news? Quite a bit, according to the dozens of negotiation experts who contributed to the January 2019 special issue of the Negotiation Journal, entitled “Negotiation and Conflict Resolution in the Age of Trump.” We’re going to revisit this issue because there were a number of worthy takeaways.

For the first time in U.S. history, the president was someone who had coauthored several books on negotiation, note the journal’s coeditors (Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Daniel Druckman, Melissa Manwaring, Carrie Menkel-Meadow, and Nancy J. Waters) in their introduction to the special issue. President Trump, who made a name for himself as a New York real estate developer, has touted his negotiating skills for years.

Yet the president’s reliance on hardball tactics departs from the tenets that negotiation theorists and practitioners have developed over the past 50 years, write the editors. Books such as Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton’s blockbuster Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In have urged business negotiators to strive for mutually beneficial deals, and researchers have confirmed that the most effective negotiators combine value claiming with value creation. However, for Trump, negotiation is often a win-lose enterprise that relies on threats, coercion, and insults to try to get the other party to surrender.

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As president, Trump’s negotiating style also differed greatly from that of many past presidents, due to his “reliance on unilateral action and hard bargaining,” write the editors.

The articles in the special issue of Negotiation Journal describe negotiations in the news to illustrate how Trump and his administration affected negotiation and conflict resolution in Washington and beyond. In particular, the contributors draw on negotiation news to write about the effects of the Trump era on negotiation theory and instruction, diplomacy and peacebuilding, trade and business negotiations, mediation, and gender and race.

5 Hallmarks of Trump’s Negotiating Style

In an article in the Negotiation Journal special issue entitled “Trump’s Lessons for Business Negotiators,” Thomas Kochan, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, describes five characteristics of Trump’s negotiating style and the lessons that negotiators can glean from business negotiations in the news:

  1. A distributive approach. With statements such as “Trade wars are easy to win” and “We have more missiles than you” (referencing North Korea), Trump tries to signal to his perceived competitors that he’s in the dominant position and will “win” any negotiation. Kochan notes clear drawbacks of this type of win-lose, distributive approach to negotiation. For those trying to negotiate business contracts, potential counterparts may avoid negotiating with you because they expect to do better with more collaborative dealmakers or to be able to form a more stable coalition elsewhere.
  1. Overvaluing small concessions. In negotiations with American companies such as Carrier Corporation over jobs and wages, the president was overly satisfied with initial small concessions rather than asking for more, as long as those concessions are accompanied by “sufficient displays of deference that feed his ego,” according to Kochan. It’s easy for business negotiators to take advantage of this trait. “Savvy business leaders will continue to give those who adopt this negotiating style what they are looking for—emotional gratification rather than substantive gains,” Kochan writes.
  1. Lack of interest in relationship building. By treating each negotiation as a one-off transaction, Trump missed out on opportunities to build fruitful relationships by gaining his counterparts’ trust, according to Kochan. A year after calling Harley Davidson a “true American icon,” for example, Trump called the company un-American when it made plans to expand production in Europe.
  1. A penchant for personal attacks. From labeling the press “the enemy of the people” to calling Democratic representative Maxine Waters “crazy,” Trump has a longtime habit of insulting those he believes have harmed him or who disagree with him. When business negotiators disparage potential negotiating counterparts, they heighten conflict and cut themselves out of potentially beneficial deals.
  1. Few reservations about dealing with questionable negotiating partners. Trump’s willingness to excuse unethical and allegedly illegal behavior by the Russian and North Korean governments and their leaders left many Americans questioning the president’s ethics and motives. Experienced business negotiators understand the importance of protecting their reputations by carefully vetting the company they keep.

 What other lessons have you absorbed from negotiations in the news?

This article was originally published in 2019 and has been updated.

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2 Responses to “Negotiations in the News: Lessons for Business Negotiators”

  • This is the most political anti-Trump article that I have ever viewed in Harvard PON. I have truly respected Harvard PON and promoted you to my company and friends. However, if you do not post an article from an unbiased commentator to counter this article, I will remove you from my list of must reads every day. Lets remember, Trump is not running a business. He is fighting to rectify the non-negotiation of our past two presidents. Do you see North Korea firing missiles to Hawaii? Can you name a president who took on China? How about making NATO members pay their share for defense? My greatest disappointment is that Harvard PON would allow this article to be published on your website!

    • Gail O.

      Thank you for writing. This article describes a wide range of negotiations and the input of many experts and scholars. It is expected that in such a political context, people will hold differing views.


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