Olympic snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis blew the gold medal just as she was about to cross the finish line and bring one home for the United States.
Why? A little showboating for the crowd.
And much has been written about Olympic skier Bode Miller and his seeming lack of preparation and almost nonchalant attitude. Every Olympic segment also seems to include commentary from coaches and experts.
What do these Olympic stories have to do with negotiation? Actually, a fair amount.
We can learn a lot from the Olympics and its athletes about how to be more effective negotiators.
Here are five negotiation lessons the Olympics have highlighted.
1. Strategic training and practice are key. Most Olympic athletes spend thousands of hours training and practicing before they ever hit the Olympic stage. World-class athletes know the value of training and practice.
The best negotiators also know the value of training and practice. In effect, they do their strategic homework on both the substantive issues involved as well as the process elements. Winging it in a significant negotiation is a recipe for disaster.
Of course, some individuals just are naturally incredible negotiators. Just like some top athletes were born with their skills.
But the best of the best negotiators and athletes combine their natural ability — or instincts — with substantial training and practice to fine-tune their skills.
One missed gate in a ski race or one missed move in a negotiation can be enough to destroy your chances for success.
2. Set specific goals. I will bet that almost every Olympic athlete has defined a set of specific goals for themselves in their sport.
Why? Because research in sports psychology supports the value of goal-setting. Studies there have shown that setting goals improves performance.
Research in other disciplines also has reached this same conclusion. You see it in politics, where some politicians set their sights from grade school on. And you see it in business and negotiation.
In each area, research shows that you increase the likelihood of achieving your goals if you start by systematically setting them.
So, set your goals at the start of the negotiation. Then design a strategic way to accomplish them.
3. Discipline and perseverance make a difference. I often am amazed at the single-minded discipline and perseverance that many top athletes bring to their sport.
Two days after skier Lindsey Kildow was airlifted to a hospital after a brutal crash, she was back on the slopes.
In negotiation, these same personal traits bring substantial value to the table. Perseverance. Focus. Discipline. Internal toughness.
All will help you achieve success in a variety of negotiation environments.
4. Beware of ego and arrogance. Commentators were saying that snowboarder Jacobellis’ twist in the air and subsequent fall will live in infamy in Olympic history. I don’t doubt it.
I also know that showing off in a negotiation — and/or letting arrogance or ego play a major role — can get in the way of achieving your best possible deal.
5. Consider a negotiation “coach.” Every major-class athlete in almost every sport has a coach.
It’s certainly true in the Olympics. Why? Largely because these athletes always are striving to improve and learn and be the best they possibly can be.
This takes not only individual talent, but also experts to help mold and shape that talent. Coaches provide expert knowledge of what works and doesn’t work.
Much has been noted about gold medal speed skater Shani Davis’ efficient technique. No doubt it was the result of hundreds of hours of coaching.
In the business world, we call coaching a form of consulting. And in negotiations — as in the Olympics — the right coach can make or break the deal.
So, whether you’re negotiating a minor or an Olympic-sized deal, use these tips and tactics to go for the gold.
Published March 3, 2006 The Business Journal