Want to be a Better Negotiator? Be Yourself

April 16, 2014

New book by U-M Ross Professor Shirli Kopelman shows the best way to build value is to negotiate genuinely.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Mention the word “negotiation” and a number of metaphors come to mind — arms-length, check your emotions at the door, win the competition.

U-M Ross Professor Shirli Kopelman, who has researched negotiations for more than a decade, thinks that’s the wrong approach. She illustrates an innovative, positive way to think about negotiations and get better outcomes in her new book, Negotiating Genuinely: Being Yourself in Business (Stanford University Press).

“Negotiations aren’t just a competition. They’re about co-creating value and being cooperative and competitive at the same time,” says Kopelman, professor of management and organizations. “We’re so used to doing business by wearing our work hat and focusing on our role. I’m calling on people to be their full selves and wear all of their hats. This allows you to tap more of your personal resources.”

Her goal is to turn a positive lens on negotiations and transform them from a tug-of-war between opponents to a conversation between people building value. The book shares strategies and techniques, along with exercises to shine a light on how to apply them.

One of the first things to do is learn how to bring your best self to the negotiation.

“To build sustainable relationships, you need to bring together all of your resources as a person and draw on them at the right times,” Kopelman says. “This is negotiating from the inside out and focusing on who you are in the moment. You have multiple strengths and abilities as a person, but you won’t be able to tap them if you just wear your business hat and focus narrowly on your role.”

Check your emotions at the door? You can file that one in the urban legends cabinet. The best negotiators are strategic and real.

“Emotions are there, they’re not going away, so we need to use them productively,” she says. “You can align your emotions, even negative ones, in a productive way. Anger sometimes motivates people at the right times. There’s a balance in managing emotions so we can stay cooperative and competitive.”

The book will show you how to achieve this, but what if the other side sticks to a traditional approach? That’s where a negotiation becomes a leadership challenge.

“If you bring the positive approach to the negotiation, people are going to want to work with you because they will see they will do better as well,” she says. “People tend to adapt quickly, and using an approach where you frame yourselves as profit architects and help everyone rise above the black-and-white, fixed-pie view of negotiations becomes contagious.”

Researching negotiations and working with companies has shown Kopelman that some of the longtime buzzwords haven’t changed the way people actually negotiate. Her book is a guide on how to be yourself while building sustainable, long-term business relationships. Negotiating genuinely is a key driver of positive business.

“We’ve been talking about win-win for 30 years now, but we don’t walk win-win,” she says. “This is a positive approach that enables you to really walk the walk.”

Order the Book