In my experience, egos are most dangerous at closing time. When the negotiation stretches endlessly before you, it’s easier to keep your emotions in check. You may be naturally aggressive, but at the start of a negotiation you’re usually rested and fresh off a planning session. Your coach is at the top of his game, with good advice that you’re willing to take. The commander has told his two really bad jokes only twice apiece, and you’re not sick of them yet. The coffee hasn’t burned a hole in your gut.
Five, six, twenty hours down the road, you’re in no mood to hear those lousy jokes again, and the intel guy smells like a wet fish. The person on the other side of the negotiation, meanwhile, thinks that you’ve won the entire negotiation. He doesn’t buy the negotiating is a win-win thing at all. He wants to get to yes, and then some. The last issue often has nothing to do with the cigarettes or the exact payout schedule on the lease; it’s macho ego.
You have to keep your perspective throughout the whole negotiation. Forget about winning and losing. You do that on the football field, or playing poker, or if you’re really into it, running marathons. Perspective is necessary throughout.
Dividing the team up can help you maintain it. The coach is supposed to watch out for the ego games the negotiator may slip into. The commander is supposed to be above ego, focused on the goal of the negotiation, eyes on the prize. The other team members, not as involved in the give-and-take, can supply a more distant perspective.
One-man teams can have a really hard time with ego. It’s not easy to realize it’s potentially a problem, or even to know that the other side can use your ego against you. Step back, physically if possible, and run down your goal and the agreements so far. Use the scribe’s notes—the paper you started with outlining your goal, the agreements you’ve recorded—to help you maintain your perspective.
The Flip Side: Egos Can Be Useful
Knowing that egos often come out of the closet at the very end can help a negotiator. In the cigarette situation I mentioned above, it didn’t take a rocket scientist or a shrink to realize that the hostage taker wanted to save face. That gave me something I could work with. I didn’t give in right away—no carton of cigarettes, even though someone could have run down to the corner and gotten one. Why not? Because then it wouldn’t have helped him save face. By the time we were done talking on the point, three cigarettes meant more to him than the carton would have—he had worked me into an agreement. In his mind, he’s wrestled me and won.
That’s a loss I’ll take every time. Because I keep score by reaching my goal.
The other person’s ego can be very useful when you’re trying to overcome the last hang-up or two. I don’t tell him he’s a great negotiator: I let him prove it. I figure out what he wants, then I let him get it from me—in exchange for what I want. If I do x, will you do y? What about z?
Doesn’t have to be one for one, but there has to be give-and-take. I find that process helps support the other guy’s ego—and probably mine—a lot more effectively than standing there and saying, “You are one fantastic human being.”
Which in the situations I deal with is almost never true.