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Do “Nice Guys” actually have an advantage in negotiations? It’s commonly thought that cut-throat, dog-eat-dog negotiators win, but what’s the truth?

I was nervous when I started Harvard Law School in 1989. I had heard what they told incoming students there for years – “look to your left, look to your right, because only one of you will be here by the end of the year.” And while everyone said this had changed, it was intimidating. 

I anticipated a highly competitive, adversarial, dog-eat-dog environment where everyone was nasty and out to beat each other. Winners and losers. No other options.

Fortunately, it had changed. A lot. In fact, the relationships I developed there have withstood the test of time.  Frankly, some of the nicest people I ever met were there. Not everyone was nice. But most were.

Importantly, those really nice people were also some of the best negotiators.

The Cost of Negotiating Like a Jerk

I recently recalled this while dealing with an electrician who turned out to be a real jerk. We had an outside light that flickered and needed fixing. The electrician was recommended by a friend, and he came out and replaced the switch. It took him five minutes.

But then he charged $180. I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t tell us before coming out about his $180 minimum. Had he done so, we would have used someone else as we felt it would be a quick and easy fix.

And when I told him, after I researched what others charged, that I felt his charge was unreasonable given the time involved and the market for similar services, he got nasty, mean and belligerent.

The result? He gave us a nominal discount, and I told my friend about our very poor experience.

Relevantly, my friend had been considering him for the rewiring on a significant renovation of his house. That didn’t happen. Big mistake on the electrician’s part. And a fatal error in almost all negotiations.

Nice guys don’t finish last in the negotiation world. In fact, many really nice negotiators do extremely well. Why?

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Why Good Negotiators are Typically Nice Guys (or Gals)

1. Nice Negotiators Get Better Intel

One, almost all negotiations revolve around the gathering and sharing of crucial information about parties’ goals, needs, interests, and options that may satisfy those interests. As my regular column readers know, my First Golden Rule is Information is Power – So Get It!

As noted by bestselling author and social psychologist Robert Cialdini in his classic book Influence: Science and Practice, research underlying “The Liking Principle” shows that people will be more likely to share critical information with you if they like you. That’s a huge difference maker in most negotiations.

2. Nice Negotiators Have Better Relationships with Their Counterparts

Two, many negotiations involve current and possible future relationships between the parties. It’s obviously crucial in these to be professional and pleasant. No one likes to deal with folks that are not.

Now don’t get me wrong: being nice does not mean rolling over and not aggressively seeking to satisfy your goals and interests. You can be extremely nice and super aggressive. Nor does it mean sharing everything. But how you engage makes a difference in what you will get.

3. Nice Negotiators Get the Benefit of the Doubt

Three, nice negotiators will almost always get the benefit of the doubt. If your counterparts are concerned with honesty and trustworthiness – nice negotiators will get the nod every time over unpleasant jerks.

Same benefit if a procurement professional has two relatively close bids – a little worse one from a really nice supplier and a slightly better bid from a not-so-nice one.  Most will go out of their way to deal with pleasant people and avoid mean-spirited ones. Life’s just too short to deal with jerks unless you’re forced. That has a bottom-line impact.

Years ago, I was told the biggest source of malpractice claims against lawyers has nothing to do with a lawyer’s competence, intelligence, fees, legal violations, mistakes, missed deadlines, or even success or failure on the legal matter.

Instead, the most complaints arise when a lawyer doesn’t return a client’s telephone call in a timely fashion. That is about being nice and respectful.

Latz’s Lesson: Be nice — it pays off.

P.S. If you’re looking for proven methods to fight sexism in negotiations, check out my webinar training on the topic. 

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Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He also has two bestselling books Gain the Edge! and The Real Trump Deal: An eye-opening Look at How He Really Negotiates. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.

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