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Negotiation is like a war

“Squeeze out”, “push through”, “win”, “duel”, “fight”, “battle”, “we made them” are common expressions from the practice of Russian negotiations - more precisely, from behind-the-scenes discussions of Russian negotiators.

The most common emotion of negotiators before a negotiation is anxiety and fear. Important: they are afraid not so much of the lack of a result of the negotiations as of the opponent's aggression and dishonesty (often quite justifiably). BUT SHOULD IT BE THIS?

Negotiation is like a war

Olga Zbarskaya

business coach, social psychologist

I'll make a reservation right away: I don't know how things are going "with them" - in the West, in the States ... But I often deal with those who here, in the Far East, on behalf of their companies, negotiate with the outside world: clients, partners , suppliers, officials ... Most often they are employees of sales and customer service, procurement and managers.

During negotiations, the most common emotion is anger. Overstated negotiation requirements, unfounded claims, manipulation and behavior of the opponent on the brink. And also - to your powerlessness to change something in the behavior of your opponent.

After negotiations - in different ways. If “we made them,” then euphoria. If "they pushed us through" - disappointment, annoyance, shame, guilt.

The most frequent mood of the participants in the negotiation process is hostility. For some reason, the person with whom they sit down at the negotiating table is perceived as an adversary who, at best, needs to be "blabbed", more often - "crushed with arguments" (frequent request for training in negotiations), ideally - "squeeze" to a profitable transactions. The negotiations themselves are perceived as a battle, as a war.

- Olga, this is creepy, but in our reality many are still negotiating as in the 90s, - complained to me one representative of a large local trading company, where I once conducted training.

Alas, this is so. In our business reality, for all its outward polish, negotiators seem to be forced to sit in the bushes with a submachine gun all the time, to be constantly on the alert and, if something happens, to be able to quickly deploy "military actions." This is understandable. You know, a thought that I once read in Boris Akunin's novel "Altyn-Tolobas" strongly resonates with me. The author put it in the words of the security adviser of the British Embassy, ​​with whom the protagonist communicates, Nicholas Fandorin, who was for the first time in Russia and was stunned by the number of dubious adventures in which he had to plunge:

- Is it a great merit to be decent if you are guaranteed a hamburger, a roof over your head and protection of personal rights from childhood? It is much more difficult to be a civilized person in Russia - this is real civilization, honestly earned, and not inherited ...

The thought came up here why: at one time in my coaching arsenal there was a training on tough negotiations, and crowds of people came to it. The most paradoxical thing is that those who were good at building a partner position and negotiating in a constructive manner wanted to learn how to turn on the "tough guy". But these people got lost when the opponent crossed the line in the negotiations and turned on aggression, behaved condescendingly, was rude and manipulated. They wanted to learn how to do this themselves, because in practice they saw real strength and effectiveness in such behavior.

Aggression, whatever one may say, is the key to survival. And it is really important to be able to use it. Just do not put it at the forefront, making it the main strategy of negotiations.

If you recall the definition of negotiation, then this is the communication of two or more parties who need to reach an agreement on an important issue for them. That is, the reason why the parties find themselves at the negotiating table is a certain common interest. And this, it would seem, should make the opponents allies, make them play on one side, during the discussion not to pull the blanket over each one, but jointly seek a solution that suits both sides. This is all the more important because our Far Eastern market is quite cramped - and with this partner you will probably cross more than once in the process of work, so why spoil the relationship?

But for now, the negotiators have to work out possible military actions at the preparatory stage:

  • To work out a bunch of different "killer" (another aggressive word) arguments, sad that the phrase "and what?" can easily cross out any carefully constructed argument.

  • Weigh your position in these negotiations, identifying what is its strength and what its weakness - figuring out how to use strength 100% and how to neutralize weakness. And also - how to bypass the strength of the "enemy" and how to use his weakness to the fullest.

  • Predict possible objections and uncomfortable questions of the opponent - and work out the correct answers to them.

  • Develop "plan B" - what will you do if you still cannot agree in the negotiations.

  • Make sure to minimize the impact of the emotional component in negotiations. After all, experienced manipulators play on our emotions and always know exactly where to prick. Before my eyes, even carefully trained negotiators were rapidly losing their positions when the opponent was able to bring them out of emotional balance, "tugging" the sensitive chords of the psyche ...
I will now commit a professional crime and tell you a little secret. In the arsenal of many business coaches there is a game called "Miracle Fruit" or, in other words, "Sunny Oranges". This is a negotiation game, the main collision of which is based on the fact that one opponent needs the skins of these rare oranges for his production needs, and the second needs the pulp. But they enter into negotiations with each other, not knowing this and considering the other as a competitor for a batch of the miracle fruit. The goal of the game is precisely to find a way to negotiate and form a partner position of opponents in negotiations.

But before seeing the opponent as a partner and agreeing, the players (always people from real business: salespeople, buyers, managers of various ranks - as well as civil servants who, due to their work, have to carry out a lot of communications with the outside world) circle around and around for a long time, try to do more to find out from the opponent and at the same time to tell less ourselves, they perceive all the questions of the opponent with suspicion and with hostility - all the arguments in favor of the fact that the party of oranges should go to him.


To the credit of the participants in my trainings, I will say that more than half of the groups in game negotiations nevertheless find that one needs skins, the other needs pulp (a few years ago the balance was different - more losing). At the moment of revealing this point of contact of interests, a small miracle occurs - the participants in the "negotiations" noticeably relax, a joyful and welcoming smile appears on their faces ... Just now the opponents were breaking their spears and it seemed to them in their tone that they would never agree, how they immediately rise up to meet each other, laughing joyfully and shaking hands tightly.

All this is fun and courageous as long as you consider it a game. But this game is about how we behave in real negotiations. Any game is a small reflection of our life.

In analyzing the game with the negotiators in this place, we always draw many conclusions about the importance of different things: careful preparatory work with information, the ability to listen well, openness and transparency as the most beneficial strategy in many ways, the ability to ask key questions about the goals and interests of the opponent ... would be very constructive conclusions, which are aimed at changing the perception of the opponent as an enemy.

But! Surprisingly, the story often doesn't end there. The negotiators have already turned on euphoria, because they “made” a coach who prepared a “set up” for them, and in this euphoria they forget that they still have to negotiate and negotiate in order to achieve a result: who will go to negotiations with the supplier of miraculous fruits? At what price do we want to buy? Shall we divide the party equally, or what? On the basis of whose production will we separate the pulp from the skins? Etc.

And opponents who have just shaken hands often make 2 mutually exclusive mistakes here. Some again turn into enemies and pull the blanket over themselves. Others, succumbing to euphoria, agree to everything, forgetting to work out these issues from the standpoint of expediency, because for them the negotiations are already over in their minds - they are afraid of renewed confrontation, agreement with the opponent has just been given to them, oh, how difficult it is.


Negotiations are always not an easy process. But it is we, the negotiators ourselves, who make it very stressful in terms of interaction.

What if we recall that same general interest (the keyword is “general”)?

What if we sit not on opposite sides of the negotiating table, but next to each other?

What if we began to perceive the purpose of negotiations not as exclusively our own, but as our common one?

What if we remember that we are working in the same market - and we will still interact and interact in the future?

What if we keep in mind the basic tenet of partnership negotiations: firmly about business, softly with people?

What if we at least tried to eliminate all military words in our vocabulary regarding negotiations?









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