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Becoming a Legendary Negotiator

Become a LegendWhy do so many people think, despite all the statistical evidence to the contrary, that benefit fraud is rife and that vast numbers of young people are living off the state by choice?

Because it’s far easier for our brains to make a broad inference from a specific, vivid example in the press, than it is to seek out the facts to make a more rational judgement.

That might sound uncomfortable, but ask any psychologist and they’ll tell you it’s true. Here’s an illustration:

The vivid example: If I told you there had been a burglary in your area, it would make you anxious about being burgled. In fact, the more vividly I painted the story: the details of the loss, the damage, the emotional strain it’s created for the family; the more aware, and anxious for your own property you’d become. I could give you pages of statistics to show how yours is one of the safest areas in the country – it wouldn’t matter. The example, no matter how rare, creates a strong emotional response and saves your brain the work of rational appraisal. We extrapolate broad beliefs and expectations from a sample of one.

In exactly the same way, when a negotiator discovers you will be on the other side of the table in the next meeting, their attitude and expectation can be overwhelmingly shaped by just one key event that they’ve experienced or heard about, that involved you.

Creating your own legend: You don’t need to be brilliant all the time to create a “legendary” reputation, quite the reverse; you just need to have been exceptionally impactful in one, very high profile event. Once you’ve laid down that marker, all of your future negotiations with people who were party to it, will start from a psychologically advantaged position. That can be worth a lot of money, and is worth investing in.

BOTTOM LINE: Early in my negotiating career, my mentor made a dramatic intervention in one of my biggest deals. The fallout cost us a lot of money, but my counterpart never saw that. He just saw a very tough, very serious and very powerful negotiator who wouldn’t back down in the face of any threat. After that, the annual cost price increases simply stopped coming, and over the next two years we recouped what we’d lost many times over. When I met my counterpart again years later, he still referred to it as “that legendary negotiation”.

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