Why Junkyard Dog Negotiating Doesn’t Work
For too long we’ve defined success in negotiations based on a mistaken belief that toughness carries the day. We’ve been conditioned to believe that the person who brings a take-no-prisoners approach is going to ‘win’. This leads to junkyard dog tactics and styles that don’t serve anyone. I invite you to flip the story you’ve been told and be open to the idea that gentler strategies may get you better outcomes.
Let me note at the outset that I’m not preaching from on high. I’ve been guilty of buying into this myth myself. For a long time in my legal practice, my clients called me the barracuda. They meant it as the highest compliment … and I wore that moniker like a badge of honour for a long time. But there’s a high cost that comes with these winner-take-all approaches.
This conflict-based approach, in part, derives from how we define power. Conditioning around power is another problem that interferes with our ability to step into our best negotiating selves. At the heart of many conflicts is an underlying sense of powerlessness. Yet what is power? How do we define it? How do we get it? How do we use if effectively? Sadly, there is too little thought given to these questions. We often buy into a misguided sense of what it means to have, hold, or exert power. We’re encouraged (sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much so) to crave power. Our entertainment industry even has us cheering on anti-heroes in their quest for power at any cost.
I invite you to reframe how you look at power so you can bring it to the bargaining table in more elegant and constructive ways. We’ve been taught to view power as power over others versus power with.
It’s an important distinction to make. When we seek to exert power over others, we miss out on valuable opportunities to find creative solutions that better benefit all. By contrast, when we bring empathy to the table, truly seeking to understand and meet the needs of others, seeking to find power together (i.e. power with others) we can secure better outcomes, better buy-in, better relationships, and longer-lasting agreements.
Bringing empathy can be difficult in a negotiation where you find the other party particularly reprehensible. If someone is antagonistic, short-tempered, bullying or trying to exert power over you, you may be tempted to respond in kind. It can be challenging to put yourself in their position and seek to understand their point of view.
But we never know what someone is going through in their life. All of us, at some point, are guilty of showing up as lesser versions of ourselves. I have no doubt that going through menopause, I was not always my most cooperative self. Or as I dealt with the pain of discovering a serious mental health issue with one of my children while simultaneously coping with the agonizing process of placing my mom in a long-term care facility, I’m quite sure there were days when I was less than a gracious bargaining counterpart.
We can weigh down negotiations with our false assumptions. As popstar, Amanda Marshall, sang, “Everybody’s got a story that could break your heart.” Try to imagine that story. Envision the goodness in that person to call on your empathy.
Note that you’ll want to be aware of both your own ego and the ego of the other party. In life generally, and in negotiations in particular, it can seem like we’re constantly bumping up against each other’s egos. Sometimes this happens intentionally. You may come up against someone who presents their ego like a battering ram, butting heads with you. If you reciprocate in kind, presenting your ego, you’ll both continue to bang heads and lock horns, almost certainly losing any prospect of achieving best outcomes.
Sometimes ego bumping happens unintentionally, more like slam dancing, where you’re not intending to bash into the other party like the battering ram ego, but rather, you’re both bouncing around with your egos in an agitated, high-energy state, and banging into each other as a logical consequence of that state. Or maybe it’s like blindfolded Twister ego bumping, where one or both are stumbling through the negotiation with blinders on, your egos bumping up against each other like things that go bump in the night. Raising your awareness about ego will help you avoid these eventualities and allow for better approaches and solutions.
Instead, I invite you to ground yourself before responding. Allow your reptilian brain to adjust and release the triggered state. Take a deep breath and invoke a mantra that gives you choice in how to respond. i.e. “I’m powerfully grounded, calm, collected, and compelling.” Choose the 3 words that best describe how you want to show up. You can tap into your personal 3-words by substituting them for the ‘calm, collected and compelling’ example above. From that state, you can choose how you ought to respond.
You may choose to call out ‘bad’ behaviour, but not from a place of reactivity, but rather, by inviting the other party to be the best version of themselves. For example, you could say, “I know that treating people with dignity and respect is important to you. So, I assume you’re not trying to offend or steamroll me here. Let’s take a step back and reset the clock to see if we can’t find a better way to reach both our best outcomes.” Do you see how this allows you to take back power, while still inviting a collaborative approach?
Maybe next time you go to the bargaining table (whether personally or professionally) try to leave your junkyard dog at home and instead try on the Art of Feminine Negotiation™, a more collaborative approach to help you get more.
Are you looking to up level your negotiation skills?
Please enjoy my TEDx Ocala talk
- Rise of the Feminine Voice as the Key to Our Future-