START WITH NO
Win-Win Will Kill Your Deal
OFTEN OVER the past couple of decades have we read heard the phrase “win-win”? Thousands, I guess. Enough, I know. The term has become a cliche in our culture, the only acceptable paradigm for personal interaction of any sort. In business, its appeal rests on the proposition that no company has the right to plunder a market just because it enjoys a position of strength and dominance. We believe that a shared prosperity – a win-win prosperity – is the sustainable one.
It all sounds so good, what stick-in-the-mud could possibly disagree that win-win is the model to use in negotiation? Well, I disagree. Based on my nearly twenty years of experience as a negotiation coach, I believe win-win is hopelessly misguided as a basis for good negotiating, in business or in your personal life or anywhere else. This book and my system should be viewed as a rejection of win-win and all its kind. Of the various ideas in my system that I could have chosen as my tide, I selected Start with No expressly to emphasize my profound disagreement with winwin, which implicitly urges you to get to yes as quickly as possible, by almost any means necessary. Such negotiating is the worst possible way to get the best possible deal. In fact, it will get you killed.
Maybe you work for one of the many companies around the world that proudly display those shiny win-win trophies presented to the sales team by their largest customers. That’s right, actual trophies, each and every one of which is testimony to a failed negotiation. Testimony to a negotiation conducted without discipline and without a system. Testimony to a negotiation conducted by naive amateurs, to be perfectly blunt. I think it’s great that eight-year-old girls and boys receive trophies in their baseball and soccer leagues regardless of whether they were the champions that season. I think it’s astonishing
that top executives don’t understand that it is precisely the win-win negotiations that are grinding their businesses into the ground. But this is often the case. I know, because many times I’ve walked right past the winwin trophy case on my way to meet the executives who want to hire me as a negotiation coach because things have gotten so bad.
“But so many deals have been negotiated on the basis of winwin! So many headlines, articles, books! It must work!” My answer is simple: The fact that a given deal was negotiated and signed tells me nothing at all. Who said this was a good deal, much less the best one? Just as the fact that the Cleveland Indians scored eight runs tells me something, but not enough, because the Yankees may have scored nine, so I need to know the final score in these so-called win-win deals.
And I do. I know that a certain worldwide delivery company became an industry juggernaut by negotiating deals with hundreds of small vendors across America that the company then abrogated in order to obtain leverage for a better deal – better for the delivery company, that is. Were those first deals good for the vendors? Just ask them. What about the second deals? Ask the vendors about these, too. I know that certain clothing retailers have made a specialty of squeezing vendors into signing pie-inthe-sky deals with production targets they cannot possibly meet. When they don’t come through, the companies enforce the letter of the law, nullify the contracts, and then return in a month or so to renegotiate at the proverbial dime-on-the-dollar, because they now have all the leverage.