Edición 48, Strategy

Ode to the Negotiator: an idea based on Sebenius’ six errors of effective negotiators

Una Idea Comparada con los Seis Errores de los Negociadores Eficaces de SebeniousBy: Antonio Lloret

At first glance, it appears that a successful negotiator is one who manages to achieve their objective in any way possible and at whatever cost. But the negotiator may not achieve their goal if they are single minded and self-serving. The ability of a good negotiator must go beyond a single goal, a linear goal, as if the negotiation with an individual were independent of all future negotiations.

The effective negotiator must be able to think that in the future, most likely, and sooner rather than later, she will return to the negotiating table with the same person or another one she has met with before.

In this way, the negotiator is dynamic, flexible, adaptable, and in these circumstances, the picture must be broader in both time and space. Negotiation depends on future negotiations, just as future negotiations are related to past ones. Therefore, a successful negotiation cannot be all or nothing. In fact, it can be a bit of everything or a bit of nothing. No finite set of negotiations can be a single great negotiation. What, then, does it mean to be a good negotiator? 1) Do not drain yourself, 2) have temporal vision, 3) have a spatial, not linear vision, 4) consider a bit of everything and a bit of nothing, 5) have a shortcut, and 6) be adaptable. Let’s compare these ideas with the six mistakes that effective negotiators make, according to Sebenius.

Error 1. Neglecting the other side’s problem

To know what you want, you have to understand what the problem is and what their highs and lows are, but you also need to know the other side’s problem, as well as their limitations. The idea is that the negotiator must understand the other party’s interests, so that the options that you offer seem attractive to them because they satisfy their own interests. To remedy this error, it is necessary to discard a self-interest position and consider that your interests are linked to the interests of the other.

Error 2 Letting price be the only variable in the decision

To assume that the result of a negotiation can be put into monetary terms is like assuming that only money has value and the other elements in a successful negotiation actually have no value and cannot be incorporated into the process. The relations, interests, future possibilities – uncertain and even ambiguous ones – should be considered, including emotions. This doesn’t mean you stand still in search of the value, but rather consider the intangible, ethereal and abstract in the price of the negotiation as future possibilities of a good agreement. A bad agreement is no better than no agreement. A bad agreement limits the possibilities of re-negotiating in the near or distant future. A good agreement extends the time horizon and is inclusive in its object and subject. This is our premise.

Error 3. Letting positions drive out interests

The three elements that we must take care of are i) issues, ii) positions and iii) interests. These concepts are synonymous with “the what, the prospects and the collateral”. To cast them aside is to reduce the spatial vision and resort to linear negotiation. If an item can be seen in broad terms, increase control variables; then there will be priorities that should be considered in both cases, along with actions to avoid previous mistakes. One possible solution is to keep your eye on the mark and organize hierarchically without allowing the skein around it to influence the conclusion.

Error 4. Searching too hard for common ground

Balance does not exist; it is an illusion. It does not exist in the cards or in tarot. There is, however, a place that resembles a zig-zag, a seesaw, a weighing scale that can be fair and that’s fine. In the large and small numbers, the common ground is necessary foolishness to justify and to do justice to the negotiation. The differences stand out, they add, they congregate and even match. The value is in the difference between a bit of everything and a bit of nothing.

Error 5. Neglecting the best alternative to a negotiated agreement

The ace in the hole, the indifference, the enthusiasm, the path, the unknown shortcut, define a way, a tactic, a strategy for getting there. But this requires an extensive knowledge of one or both, an accordion, a going back and forth, and a link as a stepping stone to reach and overcome at least the lack of comprehensiveness of the most relevant.

Error 6. Failing to correct for skewed vision

To schedule an experiment between equals, one needs to know their strategies, their actions, their payments, their pains and their daily routine. Their fixation and stability force them to be limited to a constant tug of war. Adaptability and flexibility are really the great alternatives, the value of going and returning. Look beyond what you believe and admit a mistake, your mistake, and return to the path that leads to many paths heading south, north, center or inside.

In conclusion

Negotiators have to make mistakes to be aware of errors and to assume that to get to where they want to go, they must not be drained or limited or become self serving, but allow a bit of a lot and a lot of a bit, build roads, and be able to adapt. In a nutshell, the good negotiator must be able to be negotiated.


  • Sebenious, JK. (2001) “Six habits of merely effective negotiators”, Harvard Business Review.

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