Have you ever been reading an article or blog post online and had a vague uncomfortable feeling? The feeling that something is just not right.
No, I'm not picking on the certification program of the day -- instead, I got that feeling last week reading an article on negotiation put out by Inc. Magazine.
The strange thing is that, on first blush, it's a quality article. Reading it kept me awake and engaged. There are certainly some good pointers in it (the article is available for free on-line
.) For that matter, you could argue the article accomplishes it's mission of being "The only guide to negotiating you'll ever need", in that it does boil down thousands of pages of advice into a half-dozen, and hits most of the highlights.
So what is your problem Matt?
With thousands, if not tens of thousands of pages to summarize, the author had to pick what to favor and what to mention-yet-dismiss. Let's just say I am disappointed by his choices.
Despite the engaging writing I found myself with a distaste for the material. I ended up putting the article down and coming back later a couple of times, moving from a sense of obligation ("I really out to read this") to fascination to, well, maybe, something worth commenting on in a blog post.
Let me give you a few examples from the text:
"One psych-out technique is to exaggerate the significance of issues that you don't actually care bout."
"His most amusing gambits including making sure you visibly flinch at the other sides proposals, and, at the close of a negotiation you feel you've won, you should say something like "Wow, you did a great job negotiating that. You were brilliant."
An easy one (tactic): Addressing opponents with an honorific needlessly elevates them, so stick to first names"
"Consider, for example, the "Columbo Effect" describe by Camp. This boils down to lulling your opponent into underestimating you and getting overconfident."
(In a related article) "You almost always want to establish at the beginning of the negotiation that there is some higher authority with whom you must speak prior to saying yes ... for once, be (falsely) humble: pretend like you aren't the one who makes the decisions."
Yes, the article itself had falsely in parenthesis; I did not add it. The idea behind that tactic is simple: You negotiate for your best advantage, then say "... but I have to check with my senior partner", get twenty-four hours to think on it, knock 5% to 10% off the price, then come back and say "I'd like to do this deal, but Mr. Lynch needs it to be $75,000, not $80,000, in order to sign off."
To be fair, those quotes are the author's summary of the existing literature, cribbed from other books and articles on negotiation. They are also worst offenders of the lot, and the article does a fair bit of back-and-forth between such tactics and more honorable behaviors, like win-win negotiation. Even the conclusion explains the practicing negotiation has value over "booklearnin'". (Explaining, perhaps, why the author things it is the only article you'll ever need: What you likely need is less booklearnin' and more practice.)
To my read, though, it sure seemed that honesty got the short end of the stick, hence my discomfort. Which brings us to the things about negotiation that (in my opinion) we just don't talk about enough ...
The big secret
you can drive a more advantageous bargain if you are only willing to lie. That's no secret; put a couple of fake degrees and some untrue experience on your resume and you can make more money.
The problem is that one lie, yes, one little lie
in a negotiation can screw us up. If we get caught, bad things happen, but if we get away with it, something worse
happens: We are subtly training ourselves that lying is a legitimate way to get things, and that it works. It deadens the consciece.
To borrow a line from C.S. Lewis -- well -- if you want to take a man who is not yet bad and turn him into a scoundrel, consistently reward him for lying.
Now someone is going to say that it's a slippery slope argument, or that the world isn't fair and they had to put Visual Studio on their resume to get the job, even though they excel at it, or who am I, and so on, but that's not my point.
My main point is this article was actively encouraging it's readers to lie, to misrepresent, to cheat, that "all is fair in love and war." My response, for the record, is this:
That's a big flaming pile of crap
The argument for deception is one of self-interest; you'll get the job or the bigger raise or the car for less money, or whatever else you'd like.
The problem is, it is a sort of vapid short-term self interest. Oh, it might work once or twice, but, eventually, you'll get a reputation for what you'll be doing. You'll find that people don't trust you, that they hesitate to work with you, or they look entirely after their own interests, because they know you sure won't.
To put it differently: It's a four-thousand-odd word article on negotiation that never mentions the benefit of having a positive reputation, that never talks about how real trust is established, by consistency
Come to think of it, that title "The Only Guide to Negotiation You'll Ever Need." Yeah, I'm not too excited about that title.
Yet even that isn't the real point of this blog post. Ready for it? Here goes:
The article gave specific, concrete advice that conflicted with my personal value system. In response, I've given you other advice, and make a few arguments for why. These boil down to values; I honestly value being a better person over
any individual negotiation.
Notice this comes down to an ethical choice for me personally, but I've tried to frame the discussion in terms of outcome. I'm more excited about the long-term consequences of integrity than I am a short-term gain from it's lack.
This value of integrity has a cost
the cost, being willing to pay it, and deciding for ourselves what to do, is very similar to the enlightenment definition of maturity -
"Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without the guiding direction of another", Immanuel Kant, 1784. (Source: Video Lecture, History 5, University of California at Berkley, about 13:05.)
This is one of that things that drives me batty about "best practices"; they prescribe a certain behavior to get a certain outcome, without asking if you
want that outcome.
As a child I was told, and I believed, a little story about a man named George Washington, and how, as a youth, he chopped down a cherry tree
for fun, one that yielded good fruit. When his father asked George refused to lie about it and suffered a just punishment. (The great irony of the story, of course, is that it is not true; the more subtle one, perhaps, is that it should be.)
Our Moral choices may not have the great significance of George Washington, who had the opportunity to rule America as king, and yet, like Cincinnatus
, chose to return to his farm.
Our children and our grandchildren will tell stories about us.
Every morning, we wake up and decide what those stories will be.
Choose wisely -- and happy President's Day.