There is no doubt that humans are born with a variety of abilities for almost any skill that you can think of. But our (social) environment and in particular education have a great impact on what we achieve. Negotiation teachers, trainers, consultants, and professors often experience executives entering the (class)rooms with different capabilities. You can also see, that those individuals - once in a teaching environment - gain additional competence and achieve greater confidence. The belief that you are either born a great negotiator, or not, can hinder you learning and improving your negotiation skills.
Experience is a great teacher, right? Even Benjamin Franklin quoted this sentence. But he also mentioned that experience is the most expensive way to learn. It is useful to have experience, no matter in which field. But experience is not necessarily a good teacher. If your last couple of negotiations failed, your experience will teach you that you are a bad negotiator. That’s not necessarily the case. Furthermore it also depends on what you practice and experience. If, in your first 3-4 negotiations, you used threats, your experience might learn you that applying distributive tactics always lead to successful outcomes. But that’s not the case. If I’m taking a violin and rub the bow on the violin, I’ll make scratching noises, terrible noises. And after a certain time, I’ll be an expert on making scratching noises on the violin. But that doesn’t mean that I can play the violin.
If you decide to try your skills during your negotiations, and learn from the experiences, it might be hurtful and costly for your company. Once you are in a negotiation situation, there’s no room for trial and error. There’s only a good preparation and an accurate execution. One prime benefit of simulation-based negotiation classes is that they allow executives to learn from experience in a risk-free setting. Another measure that helps is engaging a third party, helping you to come to the right conclusions after the negotiation. With this you minimize the risk of learning from false conclusions.
We all take risks, in our private and in our business life. And many of them are beneficial. But many negotiators take unnecessary risks, mainly due to insufficient preparation. They prepare only the figures and navigate blindly through the process. Not only that they are easily caught by surprise by well-planned moves of the opponent, but they also take unnecessary risks through this approach. Unfortunately, negotiators often justify risk taking when they’re acting tough and hoping that the other side will cave. Such distributive gambling rarely pays off. It is more likely that your counterpart will become equally stubborn, and you’ll both miss out on mutual gains. In negotiations you should only take risks when the benefits appear to outweigh the costs. And even then, you should be prepared in the best possible way.
“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 his intuition against objective data, consults independent advisers, and thinks through the negotiation before taking his place at the table“ (L.Thompson) (1).
(1) Leigh Thompson, The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, Prentice Hall, 2000, 2nd ed.