Caliper Insights

"Master negotiators have the ability to negotiate from both sides of the table."
Guest: Michael Benoliel, author of Done Deal – Insights From Interviews with the World's Best Negotiators

Excerpted from Caliper's radio show, WINNING IN BUSINESS – 3-12-05 
Hosted by Dr. Herb Greenberg & Patrick Sweeney

"I'd like to welcome my guest today, Dr. Michael Benoliel" Patrick Sweeney said. "Dr. Benoliel is the founder of the Center for Negotiation, a consulting and training organization that specializes in conflict resolution and negotiation. He also has a new book out called, Done Deal – Insights From Interviews with the World's Best Negotiators. In this book Dr. Michael Benoliet draws on personal interviews with some of the world's best deal makers, including U.S. Secretary James Baker, Playboy Enterprises President and CEO Kristi Hefner, and Nobel Prize winner Shimon Perez. Welcome to the show Michael."

"Thank you Patrick," said Dr. Benoliel.

"It's great to have you on the air. What an incredible list of people you have in this book. Tell me, what do you find that the best negotiators share?" asked Patrick.

Dr. Benoliel pointed out, "Well, for one, they share a real appreciation for the mastery of the substance. They spend incredible amounts of time in preparation and planning, and in outlining the issues of the negotiation. They also focus on compatibility and similarities first, whereas most of us tend to focus first on incompatibilities."

"And you're talking about people who negotiated on enormous levels," Patrick commented. "Let's take Shimon Perez, for instance. What lessons did you learn from him?"

"What I learned from him," shared Dr. Benoliel "is that negotiation is really not about winning everything for one side. The real secret and magic of effective negotiation is to work together and let your partner also win so he or she can take something home. He negotiates from both sides of the table."

"That's so important," said Patrick, "because one of the key points you were talking about was that it's not just about what's going to happen at that table, but how are you going to live afterwards."

"That's right," said Dr. Benoliel. "Master negotiators are able to develop empathy toward the other side. They know that without it there is no way that you can understand the interest, the limitations, the capabilities, and the constraints of your counterpart. Unfortunately, many of us tend to negotiate from one side of the table, as if the other side does not exist. Completely ignoring the interests of the other side. So the mind-set of Shimon Perez and other master negotiators in business, in labor, in law, in sports, is one that you have to work with the other side. It's a very complex process"

"There are some people who just seem to be natural negotiators," said Patrick. "Do you think that's true?"

"I think so, yes," replied Dr. Benoliel. "Master negotiators are a combination of a lot of experience, wisdom, learning and focusing on the craft of negotiation. But they probably also have natural skills that cannot be learned. For example, the whole issue of timing. Timing is fairly intuitive. Knowing, for example, when to make a concession, how to make a concession, when to respond to a demand, are issues of timing which I believe cannot be learned that easily."

"Do you think a sense of confidence can be learned?" asked Patrick.

"In some ways a sense of confidence can be learned because it's related to the management of impression," explained Dr. Benoliel. "The other side will see you as credible when you project self-confidence. However, it is not just projecting confidence. It is about being confident. And that comes from mastering the issues so well so that the other side will really see you as an expert."

"What can someone do if they lack confidence in themselves," questioned Patrick.

Dr. Benoliel answered, "Spend a lot of time in preparation and in mastering the substance. That will give them the confidence to discuss the issues, details, and the strategic element of the negotiation. They also need to know exactly what they want to accomplish in the negotiation. Sometimes negotiators go to the room not really knowing their goal. And if you are not sure before you get to the table, probably you will not be that confident at the table once the negotiation begins."

Patrick pointed out, "A lot of it has to do with relationships and how you deal with people. When you interviewed these people, who did you particularly admire that had just a natural ability to develop close relationships, particularly with people that they were on other sides of the table with?"

"I got a very strong feel from Ambassador Dennis Ross, who was the coordinator of the Israeli Palestinian talks," responded Dr. Benoliel. "He is a brilliant man with a lot of diplomatic experience. At one point he says ‘You can master the substance, you can know the issues, you can understand the process very well, but the relationships between the negotiators, in my view, are more important than anything else.'"

"Right," said Patrick, "particularly when you're entering something like that where passions can run very high and people have points that they need to stick to. Did any of the people contradict one another in terms of their approaches to negotiation or were they all sort of saying the same thing?"

"Most of them basically share the same principles," answered Dr. Benoliel, "but they have unique styles. For example, around the issue of ultimatums, I asked them ‘How do you respond to an ultimatum?' They shared the same underlying principle: attempt to defuse the power of the ultimatum and not get trapped in it—but they each respond differently. For example, when Ambassador Charlene Barshefski, the former US trade representative, is given an ultimatum, she will say to the other side ‘You must be kidding? You're not serious?' So she will use humor in order to defuse the power of the ultimatum. And a minute later the other side will also laugh. Lee Steinberg, the superstar sports agent, also does not get trapped in the ultimatum. But his response is rather different. He says to the other side ‘Well, listen, you know we have been constructive until this point. Probably it is not a good idea to go down that road.'"

Patrick replied, "I think a lot of people think ‘Look, I'm just going to say what I'm about and that's it. You can take it or leave it.' But that is not really the way you're going to pull anybody around to you're your point of view."

"No it's not," agreed Dr. Benoliel. "We have a lot of misconceptions about effective negotiations. When you talk to the master negotiators, you can uncover so many of the misconceptions, especially around ultimatums, around being tough and around winning. In most cases, ultimatums fail. What we can learn from the master negotiators is, do not use ultimatums often or casually. There may be a point where you have to use an ultimatum, but don't press it and present it as an ultimatum. Present it in a softer way, where the other side can save face."

"We've been talking about negotiating at a very high level," said Patrick, "but all of the points that you talk about can be dealt with on any level, even something very personal. Like negotiating a salary, for example. Is there any advice you would give somebody in a situation like that?"

"The principles are the same," replied Dr. Benoliel. "You start with mastering the substance. So, if you are negotiating a salary, you must know all the issues that are related to it. Whether it is the salary itself, the benefits, the duration of the contract, conditions for terminating the contract, if it is a job that involved overseas travel. In every negotiation, whether it is diplomatic, legal, labor related, or sports-related, there are issues and you have to master them. Also, the principle of developing a relationship and trust crosses many boundaries, whether it is legal, whether it is a sport, or in diplomatic relationships or in business or salary negotiations."

Patrick responded, "Well, that's interesting. Because, to stick with that salary negotiation, you don't have people there that are necessarily on the same ground. In other words, you have somebody who's just applied for and been offered a job. A lot of times people will feel hesitant because they don't want to project themselves a certain way, but what advice would you give them?"

"What I would suggest is not to be trapped in the psychological limitations that you are negotiating from an inferior position," explained Dr. Benoliel. "You are not. If you approach it properly, if you develop alternatives, and if you present yourself well, then you do not have to come with the psychological trap that you don't have enough power.

Patrick closed with, "You have shared a lot of solid advice with us in this past hour, Dr. Benoliel. Understanding your subject, knowing the goal, knowing where you want to be at the end of the day. Developing that relationship and knowing that it is the art of compromise. This is great advice. And it's been great having you on the show. Thank you so much Dr. Benoliel.

"Thank you Patrick," said Dr. Benoliel. "I appreciate that."

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