Just winning points may not win the game.

An email I received yesterday from a prospective client made me think about the last time I was asked by someone to negotiate a deal and told to drive a hard bargain.  Hmmm … never.  I work primarily with nonprofit organizations, and perhaps they have less taste for combat. But whether nonprofit or for-profit, most of my clients want to get the deal negotiated and then buckle down to work with the other side.  Beating them out —or beating them up—can make such a result unlikely.

Yesterday’s prospective client actually said she wants to propose an agreement that is “maximally beneficial” to the large institution with which she hopes to partner.  While that might sound counter-intuitive, I think she’s smart.  Winning points may give you an initial rush, but the real payoff comes when you negotiate so that both parties are pleased with the final deal. There are lots of reasons to begin negotiations with a deal that benefits both sides:

  • An initial offer that is fair and balanced sets a collaborative tone that tends to invite discussion, rather than tension, and can lead to each party understanding the other’s interests more fully.
  • Open discussion, especially of disagreements, can result in more useful solutions than winning points, and establish a foundation for addressing differences later in the relationship.
  • Cutting out the competitive back and forth gets the deal signed more quickly — before deadlines are missed and nerves fray, as commonly happens in protracted negotiations.
  • When both sides feel they’ve gotten a fair deal and neither feels taken advantage of, mutual trust increases and the project gets off to a stronger start.

Roger Fisher said it best: “. . .  if you want the other side to appreciate your interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs.”


Ellen Lubell provides guidance to organizations and individuals on a wide variety of transactions.