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  • Matthew Turl


Updated: May 17, 2022

Well, hello 2022. Not even a month in, and you are determined to imitate the worst parts of 2021. Beginning with our current faux lockdown, shelves stripped bare, and associated blame gaming in full flow – sigh!

I for one am determined to carry forward only the really good stuff from last year. No, not the tips and tricks for getting the most from a Teams meeting, or even when I dressed as Spark Foundry Australia’s CEO for the benefit of an all-staff meeting. (And I mean “dressed”, but that is a story for another day…)

For me, one highlight came in the form of a week-long learning opportunity. The subject matter? Negotiating. You know how this can play out… The training has been in the diary for a couple of months. Then, as the date draws near, a tsunami of projects washes over your desktop, the old dog new trick cognitive bias kicks-in and the temptation to play the “too busy” card is compelling.

Well, not this time.

Turns out, that in the pantheon of negotiating, I rank as a proficient amateur. Fortunately, so does almost everyone else – no offence intended. How do I know this? Well, a week of role playing under the watchful eyes of experts, more video analysis than a pro sportsperson, and a proper “how to” playbook was enough to convince me of my own status.

A few weeks later, the opportunity to apply my newly honed skills presented itself.

Prior to the meeting, objectives were set with walk-away positions defined, a wish list prepared, the other parties’ objectives considered, possible concessions prioritised, and tasks assigned to the Spark Foundry team attending the meeting.

As for the other party... Well, not so much.

It was not a negotiation, it was barely a haggle. And, in the world of professional negotiators, the haggle is the lowest form of life.

The other party had a single objective, which meant no flexibility and no understanding of our motivations. Now, you might consider such a single-minded approach to be a recipe for success. And, you might be correct if the outcome was a one-time supply of paper clips.

However, this was a negotiation over terms for a multi-year contract, in a Professional Services setting. *Puzzled*. Ultimately, the outcome was not successful for either party.

Now, let’s take a breath and step back from the outrage to consider what key elements were missing from this interaction:


If you must win, then I must lose. Not ideal in the spirit of a long-term relationship.

It is a fallacy that the table-thumping, win at all costs approach is a recipe for success. Even the hard-nosed literature on the subject (books with titles such as “Never Split The Difference”) are preaching the merits of bringing emotional intelligence to the negotiation.

The title is actually a reference to the negotiator’s aversion to the haggle, which entails giving up value without extracting a return linked to their own objectives. In the context of a negotiation, a collaborative mindset focuses on trading what one party has in return for what the other seeks. It is a binary process, not a linear one.


Collaboration is fueled by information exchange, leading to an understanding of objectives, constraints and areas of flexibility. Wholesale disclosure is not encouraged, but the right information shared ahead of a meeting ensures that assumptions are not used to form the basis of a proposal by either party.

If the assumptions are wrong, then the meeting may be a waste of time, and the moment the penny drops is particularly excruciating for all parties! Proper preparation ensures that a plan is created to delineate between what is shared in advance versus what may be revealed within the meeting itself.


You have nothing to concede? Well, then we have nothing to give… A negotiation is doomed to fail in the absence of a willingness to concede anything. A list of concessions and a plan for the sequence in which they are given up is an essential part of the negotiators tool-kit.

There is an art to crafting the concessions, introducing them to the negotiation, and then releasing them in lieu of objectives being met.

The following apocryphal story is told to bring to life the importance of treating the concession with the respect it deserves, and never to give one up without securing value in return:

A hunter, tracking through the snow in the forests of Sweden, kills an elk and loads the body onto a sled before setting off for home, happy at the prospect of food for weeks to come. However, the smell of the dead elk attracts hungry wolves, which begin to close in on the sled. The hunter, still a long way from home, anxiously considers what to do, and decides to feed parts of the elk to the wolves in order to keep them at bay. The ploy is successful at first, but the wolves are soon back for more, and their numbers begin to grow. The hunter continues to feed them the elk, which by the time he can see his cabin through the gathering dusk is greatly diminished. As he emerges from the forest with a single snow-covered meadow to cross, the wolves are snapping at his heels and, panic-stricken, he turns over the rest of the elk. He safely reaches the cabin…with nothing.

I wish you success in all your negotiations in 2022.

Don’t be a wolf, don’t be the hunter. Execute with the good grace our challenging times demand and, under no circumstances, resort to the haggle!


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