The Skilled Negotiators

Our friends at The Skilled Negotiator, Jack DeBardeleben and Jane Dolente, took a few minutes to share some helpful insights in the art and science of negotiation. The Skilled Negotiator provides Advanced Skills for Professional Negotiators TM. Their program develops key behaviors that are critical to negotiating success. 

An interview with Jack DeBardeleben and Jane Dolente of The Skilled Negotiator:


What kinds of negotiations do your clients typically face?

We help people in all kinds of negotiations. Procurement negotiators, for example, often use threats and pressure tactics to force price concessions from vendors.  When they hammer vendors this way, an adversarial relationship develops, and creative opportunities for mutual gain cannot be developed. Why? Because neither side trusts the other enough to share key information.

Here’s an example.  When printing costs kept the price of its product packaging high, negotiators from one company used every possible tactic to wring price concessions from its printing vendor. But to no avail.  After our training, the same negotiators discovered that the vendor’s resistance was based on his current printing technology. He could not stay in business with reduced pricing.

Learning this, the procurement negotiators entered into a joint venture with the printer to double his printing capacity by investing in huge, new printing presses.  The procurement negotiators would supply part of the financing, if their company received both a return on that investment and reduced printing costs over the term of the contract.

The printer kept his customer’s business, improved his capital equipment, lowered his costs per impression, and increased his profits based on double output from the new presses.  Both sides won! Negotiating this successfully requires strong personal relationships, patience, trust, joint problem solving skills, and a preference for long-term, strategic partnerships.

 Here’s the point:  Skilled negotiators focus on partnering with the other side to create more value before trying to divide it.  Cooperation precedes competition, because dividing nothing is a pretty futile exercise!

You’ve said, “Negotiation is not all about price.”  Can you share an example?

Sure.  Kelly Sarber represented an Arizona-based waste management company in a negotiation with Oceanside, CA.  Her bid for a trash removal contract was $5 per ton higher than the competition’s.  Since this kind of contract had always been awarded to the lowest bidder, that should have meant “no contract,” but she offered something else the city valued as well.

Kelly had learned that beach erosion was a key concern in a city whose tourist industry depended on its shoreline.  Since her company’s waste disposal sites in Arizona were once ocean bottom, she offered to backhaul sand to Oceanside’s beaches, and that offer won the contract at her premium price.  Skilled negotiation is not all about price.  It’s always about partnering with the other side to create more value.

 What differentiates you from other training providers? 

Our learn-by-doing approach is fundamentally different from learn-by-listening.  The results:  Participants document quantified behavior changes as they gain new skills. They don’t just gain knowledge, which may be quickly forgotten.  Our 4-phase program includes (1) Baseline, (2) Benchmark, (3) Practice, and (4) Feedback.

Learning to negotiate is like learning to play a sport:  practice makes perfect, and practice with expert coaching makes perfect faster.  Our participants improve their targeted negotiating behaviors on average by over 300% by the end of our advanced program.  They avoid the forgetting curve by developing “second-nature” skills that don’t vanish under the pressure of a negotiation.

What has changed in the field of negotiations in the last few years? 

The need for negotiation has become more generalized.  In matrixed, cross-functional teams, for example, people face the challenge of getting team members to collaborate effectively, when they don’t formally report to the team leader.  In situations like that, better negotiating skills provide practical techniques for gaining influence without authority.

What are some of the common negotiating mistakes that you see? 

While we see many kinds of mistakes, here are some common ones.  Average negotiators talk too much about their own interests and too little about the common ground they share with the other side. They spend too much time explaining their own views and not enough time exploring the views of others.  They espouse win-win, but they practice win/lose.  When the video doesn’t match the audio in these ways, it’s no wonder that their negotiations fail to achieve their objectives.

What are some key ways to become better negotiators? 

Here are some quick recommendations:

(1) Enroll in a learn-by-doing program to develop your negotiating skills – one that provides lots of practice and feedback.  Avoid learn-by-listening programs that are subject to the forgetting curve.

(2) Plan for major negotiations by mapping out what both sides want on each variable and by estimating the highest and lowest that each would likely accept.  Planning is critical to success.

(3) Ask more questions during the negotiation.  Skilled negotiators ask twice as many questions as average.  Write out your questions in advance.

(4) Aim high to achieve win-win solutions.  Negotiators with high aspirations are more likely to achieve them. 

If you’d like to discuss this interview, call The Skilled Negotiator at (610) 692-4880.