I recently flew to Washington, D.C., and Sen. John McCain was on the same flight (in coach, too). Since he has a well-deserved reputation over the years for taking a lead role in successfully negotiating bipartisan compromises on a number of difficult issues, I asked him to share with me his key negotiating principles. We all can learn from his response.
1. Be trustworthy.
McCain told me your word and being trustworthy are absolutely critical to negotiation success. I wholeheartedly agree. Without credibility, anything you say and every move you make will be viewed with suspicion.
McCain then reached across the political aisle to praise Sen. Ted Kennedy’s negotiation effectiveness, which McCain attributed in part to his reputation for keeping his word. Once Kennedy gives you his word, McCain told me, he’s not going to go back on it.
2. Know your issue.
It seems like such a basic requirement – know your issue. Of course we should all do our homework and know the facts on the table. Critically, however, McCain’s focus on this confirms the fact that many don’t sufficiently do their homework.
Instead, for a variety of reasons, they sit down at the table without the ability to engage at a productive level. As a result, they try to broad-brush the issues and focus on the forest and not the trees.
Certainly, there is a time and place for focusing on the forest. But when you’re at the negotiating table, understanding the details substantially increases your likelihood of achieving your goals.
3. Be willing to compromise.
Finally, McCain told me you must be willing to compromise. Again, I agree. The very nature of most negotiations involves a back-and-forth process that almost inevitably involves each party compromising on something significant.
McCain’s lessons strike at the core of many negotiations. Now it’s up to us to do more than understand them – we must implement them.
Published July 2, 2009 The Arizona Republic