Negotiation Lessons from Politics

April 14, 2016I was recently in the Washington, D.C. airport waiting to return home when I noticed former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) nearby. Since he had enjoyed an excellent reputation as a deal-maker in his many years in the U.S. Senate and House, I asked him to share his negotiation “pearls of wisdom.”

Fortuitously, in the middle of our conversation we were joined by former West Virginia Governor and current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). So I asked him to also share his negotiation lessons.

Here they are, with my insights sprinkled in.

Former Sen. Jon Kyl

- Get “good intel” and develop a plan in advance. You need information to start. (This is aligned with my first Golden Rule of Negotiation – Information is Power-So Get It! A big part of this is strategic planning, which partially involves getting intelligence about what strategies your counterparts have used in the past.)

- You need to “get trust with the other side.”

- Find out your counterpart’s hot buttons and what drives them.

- Do what works best for you, but it usually “doesn’t pay to be a jerk.”

- Be wary of those always asking for “one more thing.” If they do, say no. (We call these “nibblers” in the negotiation world – and recommend either walking away, as Sen. Kyl recommends, or reopening the negotiation and putting a previously agreed upon issue back on the table. Otherwise they will keep on nibbling.)

- “Everyone needs something out of it [the negotiation].”

- “Take what you can” and don’t hold out for everything. Or you may get nothing." Sen. Kyl pointed to one of the best negotiators he has ever known – former Sen. Ted Kennedy – as always willing to take something instead of nothing. Kyl said Kennedy would take “30% here, and 80% here – and it would all add up.”

- Your ability to walk away from a deal is crucial. (This is aligned with my second Golden Rule of Negotiation – Maximize Your Leverage. Leverage is fundamentally dependent on what will happen if you walk away. The better your walkaway – or Plan B – the stronger your leverage. And vice versa.)

- It usually doesn’t pay to bluff. Sen. Kyl recalled former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) once telling him, “Never take a hostage if you’re not willing to shoot.”

- Relationships matter. “You have to walk together if you want to get anything done.”

Sen. Joe Manchin

- “First build the relationships.”

- Trust is crucial.

- Never put your colleagues in an embarrassing position. They need something out of it too.

- “Leave a little meat on the bone for the next dog,” Sen. Manchin recalled his “granddaddy telling me.”

- Agreements shouldn’t be too one-sided. Sen. Kyl also noted that if you drive too hard, the other side might not even be able to perform – and this leads to litigation.

- Beware of personalities [and egos] messing up deals. Sen. Manchin recalled a negotiation between the Teamsters and a company when he was governor and he was asked to help resolve an impasse. He said he immediately recognized that the contested issue – while relatively minor – had become a big problem because of two personalities in the room. Each had become personally vested in winning that issue – and neither would give the other side a win. What did Manchin do? He asked the two individuals at loggerheads to leave the room. The rest of the parties quickly resolved the issue.

Latz’s Lesson: Trust. Relationships. Planning. Mutual interests. Professionalism. Credibility. These negotiation strategies work in politics, business and, of course, in life.

* Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Latz@ExpertNegotiator.com.