If all of life is a negotiation, why are we taught so little about it? And of the little we’re taught, why is so much of it based on myths? These are important questions as the myths we buy into can hold us back from becoming our most powerful negotiator. They stop us from getting the better outcomes, buy-in, and relationships we deserve.
Let’s explore the top 10 myths, consider why they’re so dangerous and debunk them so you can step up to negotiate a better life for yourself.
Myth #1: Personal Relationships Are Not Negotiations
How we’ve been conditioned to see negotiations is a good starting point in examining myths that hold us back. When you hear the word ‘negotiation’ I’d wager you first picture a boardroom full of suits. We recognize business dealings as negotiations but not our personal dealings. This misconception stops you from bringing the necessary level of intention to your interactions.
Recognizing that all of life is a negotiation – whether it’s with your kids, intimate partner, co-workers, service providers or business tycoons – is the first step on the path to negotiating better relationships and outcomes.
Myth #2: Negotiation Is a Competition
We’ve also been conditioned to see negotiation as a competition, with winners and losers. This is one of the reasons so many people resist seeing negotiation as a skill to use in personal relationships. This zero-sum approach to negotiations leaves little room for creative solutions that meet the highest good of all. Instead, when you take a collaborative approach, truly seeking to understand and meet the needs of the other party, you’ll elevate your influence and persuasive abilities to get even better outcomes than anticipated.
Myth #3: Toughness Carries the Day
Tied to myth #2 is the belief that toughness carries the day in negotiations, that the person talking the longest and loudest is ‘winning’. In fact, the opposite is true. Successful negotiators are effective listeners who bring empathy to the table. The more you understand about the other party’s needs, the better deals you’ll be able to broker.
Myth #4: Women Aren’t Good Negotiators
The misconceptions set out above lead to the mistaken belief that women aren’t effective negotiators. Many women shy away from negotiating their best lives because they buy into the myth that negotiations are about toughness and competition.
Interestingly, 5 out of 6 of the key skillsets that make and mark effective negotiators are traits considered by most to be ‘feminine’ or soft skills. My A.R.E. F.I.T. model is based on elevating our appreciation and intentional adoption of these skills. Assertiveness, Rapport-building, Empathy, Flexibility, Intuition and Trust are the top 6 skills most often identified as essential to superior negotiation. Studies suggest that aside from assertiveness, the other 5 skills are considered ‘feminine’ traits by most. Yet, ironically, we still cling to the misguided belief that women are likely to be less effective.
Myth #5: Nice people finish last in negotiations
The same misconceptions that lead people to believe women aren’t effective negotiators are also responsible for the mistaken belief that nice people finish last in negotiations. When we see negotiations as win-lose propositions where it’s all about the bark and bite, it’s no wonder you might buy into the myth. Added to that, ‘nice’ has gotten a bad rap in recent years and is under-valued.
To all the nice people out there, be glad in the knowledge that you may well be better equipped as a negotiator because bringing empathy, true trustworthiness and rapport-building to the table will elevate your outcomes.
Myth #6: You either have the natural ability as a negotiator or you don’t
Many people believe that negotiation skills are fixed traits – you either have them or you don’t. They believe negotiation prowess is innate – some are born with it, others not. This mindset inhibits people from stepping up to try out their negotiation chops. That’s a shame because the belief is based on a myth.
Negotiation is a learned skill. It takes practice. Making a point of learning more about the art of negotiation and applying those skills with intention will improve your abilities as a negotiator and result in better solutions and outcomes. Every new building block will set a stronger foundation upon which to grow.
Myth #7: Negotiations are like poker – hold your cards close to your chest
As is no doubt becoming clear, the myth that negotiation is a win-lose competition spawns many more destructive myths. One such spin-off is the idea that negotiations are like poker and you need to hold your cards close to your chest. In my experience this is typically counter-productive. It’s challenging if not impossible to come to real, meaningful resolutions that represent the highest good for all if everyone is busy protecting and refusing to share their actual desired outcomes.
It’s only through sharing your real needs and discussing those of the other party that opportunities arise to find creative solutions to meet those needs – often in unexpected ways. A guarded, defensive posture in negotiations triggers a similar response in kind. This is rarely, if ever, a strong place from which to bargain for best outcomes.
Myth #8: Never make the first move
Another spin-off myth from the competition model is that you should never make the first move in a negotiation and/or that concessions are a sign of weakness. I’d like to debunk both these myths. There are many potential advantages to making the first move.
Anchoring your expectations at the outset can be a strong move in a negotiation. Set high aspiration levels and anchor expectations by sharing them early. You can set the tone for the negotiation and set the discussion on track from the outset.
Likewise, planning for and making the first concession can set a collaborative tone and trigger reciprocity. It’s always been my belief that people afraid to do so lack confidence in the strength of their position and/or negotiating abilities.
Myth #9: Emotion has no place in negotiations
You’ve no doubt been told that emotion has no place in negotiations. It’s often one of the unfounded criticisms levied against women – that they’re too emotional to be good negotiators. There is a difference though between being emotional and bringing emotion to the table. In other words, while you don’t want to be emotionally reactive and lose the clarity required to move towards desired outcomes, bringing the emotional resonance of your deep ‘why’ can be a powerful motivator in a negotiation.
At the very least, understanding emotion and how it shows up – for you and the other party – is a significant advantage in any negotiation.
Myth #10: If both sides go away unhappy it’s been a successful negotiation
This myth is a particular pet peeve of mine. I’ve often heard even experienced mediators suggest they know they’ve done their job if both sides go away unhappy. I come down with a resounding ‘NO’ on that theory. Splitting the difference as a go-to remedy is a similar pet peeve. Successful negotiators seek the highest and best results for all. It shouldn’t be about everyone giving up items of importance. It should be about finding how to get even better results than everyone expected coming to the table.
Hopefully this article has given you some insights on how to bust through negotiation myths that hampered your ability to get your best outcomes. By raising your awareness about stories you’ve been telling yourself about negotiations, you’re halfway to elevating your ability to persuade and influence.