In her book The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, Leigh Thompson cites four widely held negotiation myths that bar negotiators from improving their skills. This analysis is worth the attention of anyone who wants to move beyond platitudes to a deeper understanding of negotiation.
Myth 1: Great negotiators are born. While we’re all born with varying abilities for almost any skill that can be imagined, our social environment and education have a tremendous impact on what we achieve. Negotiation professors recognize that executives enter the classroom with different capabilities. They also understand that all students can gain confidence and competence. The belief that one is either born a great negotiator or not, can stand in the way of learning.
Myth 2: Experience is a great teacher. Benjamin Franklin once remarked that “experience is a dear teacher,” a saying that has been read as an excuse to learn—and make mistakes—on the job. In fact, Franklin was calling experience an expensive way to learn. While negotiators test their skills at work, they can harm their employers in the process. One prime benefit of simulation-based negotiation classes is that they allow students to learn from experience in a risk-free setting.
Myth 3: Good negotiators routinely take risks. We all take risks, many of them beneficial. Unfortunately, negotiators often justify risk taking when they’re acting tough and hoping that the other side will cave. Such hard-line gambles rarely pay off; your counterpart is likely to become equally stubborn, and you’ll both miss out on smart trades. In our uncertain world, negotiators should take risks only when the benefits appear to outweigh the costs.
Myth 4: Good negotiators rely on their intuition. While it’s true that intuition can yield novel strategies, unwavering trust in one’s gut can be extremely costly. The human mind, after all, is hard-wired with an array of systematic biases. The wise negotiator tests her intuition against objective data, consults independent advisers, and thinks through the negotiation before taking her place at the table.
Are there any negotiation myths that you’d like to add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Adapted from “Negotiation Myths, Exposed,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter.