Business Development Series Posted by David McDermott

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now, 
from win and lose, and still somehow…”
Joni Mitchell

Fans of 60s music will immediately recognise this couplet. It comes from one of Joni Mitchell’s most durable songs, ‘Both sides now’, covered by a host of folk and country stars over the years since.

One interpretation of the lyric (one of the many!) is that examining matters from different angles doesn’t guarantee certainty. Perceptions are all that we are left with, as the line that follows tells us:

“It’s life’s illusions I recall…”

In the commercial world, we’d agree with the point. In the complex major B2B sales environment, absolute certainty is unattainable – especially when it comes to the later stages and negotiations begin. In fact, this is one of the major differences between skilled and average negotiators. The latter spend too much time crunching numbers and gathering facts in a relentless pursuit of certainty. As a result, they have little time left to plan their approach. Skilled practitioners seem better able to handle ambiguity. They focus more on how they could use and deploy the information they have.

However, going back to Joni’s lyric, skilled negotiators also make sure that they look at things from both sides, as they go through their preparation and planning cycle. In other words, they spend time ‘in the other party’s shoes’, trying to think as they think and see the world through their eyes, in as objective a manner as they can manage. This is not easy, especially when you’re unsure – or even suspicious – of the motivations of the other side, but it’s vital.

‘Thinking as they do’ helps you understand what their priorities might be and therefore the relative value they may place on issues. This identifies your ‘levers’ – possible trades you can offer in return for what you want. It also prevents any nasty surprises at the negotiating table, when the other party pulls something out of the bag that you haven’t thought about. If that happens, there’s all sorts of risks: it tips the power balance in their favour; it can derail your plans; often as a result, you will be bounced into making a concession that you haven’t properly thought through and will live to regret deeply later.

And after all, as Joni tells us in one of her other insightful songs, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’:

“Don’t it always seem to go
 that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

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