Who Should Negotiate
Before discussing the various
elements and procedures of negotiations, it is necessary to consider what
kind of an individual makes the best negotiator. This is one of the most
highly specialized activities in which a man can operate and all men do
not possess the attributes to enable them to do so successfully.
Speaking generally, negotiations are conducted by either one man or by a
team of individuals. Where the subject matter is important and
complicated, I am a firm believer in the team approach wherever possible.
No one man can properly conduct the actual negotiations, provide all the
necessary back-stopping and technical data, keep notes, closely observe
opponents’ reactions across the table, think up required tactical
diversionary maneuvers, and finally reduce to writing the document of
There are two basic principles which should be adhered to in any team
negotiation. First, to achieve the best possible results, always field the
first team—not the second team or the reserves.
This is the area where many negotiations never really get off the ground
because of the lack of understanding on the part of those responsible for
setting up the team, of the importance of the subject matter and the
necessary attributes of a good negotiator. As a consequence, the wrong
people are chosen for the job and the results are bound to reflect these
Secondly, in any team
negotiation, one man must always be the quarterback and be in full and
complete charge at the table. Without strict discipline in this regard the
negotiation will invariably get out of hand, confusion will result and
mistakes will be made.
Obviously, this quarterback is the key man on the team because he is the
one who has the responsibility for conducting the negotiations. This
person may not be the ablest man at the table from a technical point of
view. His job, however, is to know where to get needed data and then make
the best use of it.
Having discussed the team approach to negotiations and the two basic
principles of a team effort, let us now examine the type of individual who
should be entrusted with the task of heading the team and conducting the
actual negotiations. If a negotiation is to be conducted by one man rather
than by a team, that man should meet the tests to be discussed to an even
greater degree than a team captain, because the lone negotiator has no one
to help him.
First of all, we need to consider human traits, not academic or professional
qualifications. We will assume here that all potential candidates for this
job are men of reasonable intellect, good habits and behavior.
Some men are introverts, others extroverts. I would never choose an
introvert to be a negotiator. A happy medium is the answer here.
Some men talk well but say nothing, while others are readily understood at
the risk of being referred to as plain spoken, blunt or even caustic. I
would choose the plain speaking individual on the theory that it is much
easier to find a good, plain spoken negotiator who is also a gentleman,
than it is to find a well spoken gentleman who is also a good negotiator.
Some men never want to face an issue and will go to great lengths to
prevent a situation from reaching the issue stage, while others are at
their best when confronting issues. I would select the man who is not
afraid to face an issue head on.
Some men have no conviction
whatsoever, while others not only have convictions but, in addition,
have the strength of their convictions. A good negotiator must be a man
capable of having and fighting for convictions.
Some men are constitutionally unable to make decisions, while others
have no hesitancy whatsoever in doing so. This decision making ability really has
two parts; first, the ability to make them and, secondly, the accuracy
of the decisions so made. This distinction is rather subtle and I will
illustrate exactly what I mean.
My initial duty in the Navy was in the Office of Censorship. During the
war the Navy was censoring all cables to and from the United States
while the Army did likewise will all mail. I was a so-called censor. We
were attempting to discern if code was being used and could pass,
delete, paraphrase or suppress each cable coming to our desk. Well I
remember some censors who could never make up their minds what to do
with a cable. They would worry and fret all day reading and rereading
the same cables. Others took action in a reasonable time and moved
ahead. I always remembered this when later I had to mark civilian
efficiency reports. At that time the government was using the old forms
and one question was “ability to make decisions.” The Civil Service
pamphlet of instructions stated that, in marking this question, no
account was to be taken of the accuracy of decisions. However, a
separate question to be marked was “accuracy of decisions.” The
distinction made a great impression upon me and I never forgot it.
A good negotiator must be capable of making decisions—assuming he
has the authority to do so—and his decisions must be right ninety-five
percent of the time.
Some men are eager to assume more and greater responsibility and
authority, while others shun both. To be a good negotiator, a man should
be able to assume additional and unexpected responsibility in stride.
Some men are unable to
comprehend the distinction between self-confidence and ego. A good
negotiator must have an abundance of self-confidence but know when the
fine line has been reached which separates that trait from ego.
Some men have a sense of humor and realize its importance while others
have none at all. A sense of humor is an indispensable tool in a good
negotiator’s kit and I would never select a man to negotiate who was
devoid of a sense of humor.
Some men are experts at finding reasons why something cannot be done,
while others think affirmatively and look for ways to get something
done. Obviously, a negative thinker will never make a good negotiator.
Some men are policy level type individuals, who may have no idea of how
to actually carry out an idea or put a policy into effect, while other
men are much more practical than theoretical and have the ability to
make a policy fully operative.
Obviously, both types of men serve a useful purpose in this world, but
care must be taken when choosing a man to negotiate, to pick a
thoroughly practical man, rather than a policy maker who may spend most
of his time far removed from the day to day operating facts of life.
A man who combines the human traits discussed and decided upon, would be
the type of man we could be sure was both mentally tough and practical.
This is a must, for a good negotiator.
Do not get the impression that this is an easy exercise to go through to
decide mental toughness. On the contrary, these standards cannot be
readily applied to strangers, they can only be applied to persons we
have known for some time or persons with the requisite reputation.
Actually, the person to whom these standards can be applied the fastest
Having found the man who comes the closest to embodying these
attributes, we have made a good start—but only a start—in our search for
a potentially good negotiator.
Now we must see if this man
possesses the right psychological attitude toward a negotiation.
Many men feel that it is
wrong to question the statements and motives of other men and take pride
in the fact that they accept other people at face value. This is indeed
an enviable characteristic under certain circumstances.
When, however, you have the responsibility of negotiating on behalf of
others, you cannot indulge this luxury—you must question motives as well
as statements and not take your opposite numbers across the table at
face value. If, as we shall see later, you have properly prepared for
the negotiation, you will have researched your opponents’ past dealings,
history and performance and this knowledge and experience cannot be
What we are trying to find now is a happy medium between a naďve man and
a cynic—I would say a skeptic. I would never select a man to be a
negotiator unless that man had the intestinal fortitude to require
satisfactory evidence rather than embrace face value acceptance.
It is important to bear in mind that we are now only considering the
qualifications of the man to be the negotiator or quarterback of the
team. We are not considering the type of men who may be his team
To digress a moment in this regard, it should be remembered that while
the negotiator himself should be a very definite type of individual, his
team members may include other types and at least one should be a
completely antithetic type person to the negotiator.
Care should be taken in this regard because both types of men need to be
included on a strong team. The reason is apparent—they implement each
other and make possible a greater exchange of divergent views—away from
On any negotiating team that I might head, I would always try to include
at least one man who I knew had opinions that differed
from my own, and who was not
afraid to make known his views to me.
If we now have a man, who by the standards mentioned is tough minded,
practical and a skeptic, we have almost fulfilled the basic requirements
for the type of man who will make the best negotiator. There remains one
further major test to apply to our prospect.
This test is the man's desire—conscious or unconscious—to be well liked or
popular. In other words, does our potential negotiator fully understand
that he must, by his behavior and actions command respect without being
popular and well liked? This test is so important that it could be
considered first and anyone not meeting it be forthwith disqualified. I
say this because it can be stated categorically that any man who wishes to
be well liked and popular with those across the table from him, will never
make a first team negotiator.
In my opinion, labor negotiators are the finest examples of men who have
learned this lesson well. While it is true these men can adopt certain
attitudes because they have the ability to back up their demands with a
strike, they nevertheless are completely impervious to what the other side
thinks of them personally.
Actually, as a negotiator's popularity index goes up with his opposite
numbers, his effectiveness as a negotiator goes down. I learned long ago
that when people with whom we were negotiating would come to me and tell
me what a fine job my negotiators were doing or had done, that negotiator
was suspect. Conversely, when people would come to me and complain about
my negotiators, I had a feeling they were doing their job, because
whenever negotiators operate without complaints, I look to see if
something is wrong. Persons unfamiliar with what negotiations really are
and how they should be conducted do not understand this reasoning because
they are trained to feel that no complaints is a sign of a well run
operation. Not so negotiations.
I have discussed this
philosophy with British friends who have been negotiating on behalf of the
United Kingdom for many years and they learned long ago that when a
foreign country circulates derogatory reports about a British negotiator,
it was a sign to the British that their man was doing a good job and
conversely when a country would indicate what a fine fellow the British
negotiator was, it was time to check on what kind of a job this negotiator
was doing for the United Kingdom.
In this connection, I think it is not only shortsighted but most unfair to
the individuals involved to assign negotiating functions to men whose
primary job requires them to be well liked and popular. This is true both
in industry and government.
For example, I recall a very large concern doing business with the government
that formerly permitted their top government salesmen to solicit the
business and then negotiate the terms and conditions of the contracts.
This makes about as much sense as having the same man fill the job of
sales manager and purchasing agent.
A salesman must be well liked and have many friendly contacts and to
encumber him with the completely foreign function of negotiating with the
same people he is selling is a mistake. This company finally realized that
the salesman could do his job more effectively if they sent a person from
the home office to haggle on terms and price and leave the salesman free
to listen and agree with the procurement officers when they later would
criticize the negotiator—as usually happens.
Likewise in government, it is unrealistic to expect the average foreign
service officer to be proficient at negotiating, when they have never been
trained to negotiate and their principle job is to be salesmen for the
United States. Moreover, these people are part of a system, the same as
military personnel, and to advance within the system, it is much better to
be well liked, both at home and in the foreign country where they may be
stationed. They know that
if they do anything in a manner which meets with the displeasure of a host
country—and negotiating properly for the United States can easily do
this—the word will simply be passed that this man does not understand the
local situation, etc. That is why we should have full time negotiators who
can go out from Washington, do their job and leave the country after they
To summarize, if we have found a man who is reasonable intelligent and
presentable, who is mentally tough and practical, who psychologically is a
skeptic and who understands where respect stops and popularity starts, we
have, in my opinion, a potentially sound negotiator.
I suspect this description will make some people wince a little, because
when they try these tests on for size, they do not fit. It should be kept
in mind that no attempt is being made to criticize those who do not meet
these rigid specifications and it is not here suggested that one failing
to meet them cannot negotiate at all.
The point I wish to make is that like any other vocation, there will
always be good, bad or indifferent categories of performance, but by
applying the tests set out herein to a man, the chances are much greater
that a more capable negotiator can be developed with consequent better
results at the table.
The question naturally arises of where to look for this type of
individual. My experience in this field, which includes considerable
hiring of so-called negotiators and negotiator trainees, has led me to
conclude that there is no particular category of business, profession or
educational institution, which contains a natural reservoir of persons
likely to meet these specifications and become good negotiators. I do not
believe that the process whereby our educational machinery grinds our
foreign service graduates, military officers, lawyers, doctors,
accountants, scientists, etc., by the thousands every year, can be adapted
to the mass production of outstanding negotiators. Each category mentioned
can produce some raw ma-
terial to make a good
negotiator, but not because of being in any of those categories.
For example, I hired three young men to go to Europe with me on one
occasion to become negotiators. All three had Harvard law degrees and I
thought I had screened these men thoroughly. One turned out to be an
excellent negotiator, one a fair negotiator and the other a poor
negotiator and the test which controlled this result was their mental
toughness. All three were able lawyers but all three should not be
To me, finding a good negotiator prospect and developing him to become an
outstanding negotiator, is like looking for gold or breeding a Man-of-War.
It is probably this very difficulty of discovery and selection, plus a
basic lack of comprehension of what constitutes a good negotiator, that
has resulted in both industry and government turning important negotiating
functions over to specialists in other fields.
Thus, we find industry calling upon their lawyers, accountants, engineers
and even sales personnel to negotiate for them. In government, our
Department of State finds it necessary for important international
negotiations, to turn to Wall Street lawyers not connected with the
Department, or give the less important negotiations to members of an
Embassy staff who are without training as negotiators.
My own observations and experience convince me that the most prevalent
mistake made by both government and industry is the assumption that
position and authority are synonymous with knowledge and ability to
negotiate properly and effectively.
Thus, corporate officers, Cabinet officials, Ambassadors, high ranking
military men, agency heads, etc., who possess both title and authority,
are presumed to be perfectly capable of conducting involved and important
negotiations. This can be a very violent presumption.
It is quite true that a title and the authority that goes with a title,
can be of great assistance to a good negotiator at the table, but they
cannot substitute for the
ability to negotiate. When, for example, our Department of State drafts a
Wall Street lawyer to negotiate for them and then gives that man the
title of Ambassador, he is actually no better or no worse a negotiator
than he was before he was drafted.
What is patently required today, if for government and
industry—particularly government—to devise programs for the discovery of
potentially good negotiators and then train these men to be full time,
career negotiators. Obviously, these men could perform other work when not
actually negotiating, but they would be specialists in the art of
Having thus laid a firm foundation, these specialists could then have
their overall effectiveness enhanced by the proper title, authority and
Cover, Contents, & Introduction
About the Author
II. What is Negotiation
V. Conduct of a Negotiation
A—Things To Do
B—Things Not To Do