“The goal of an effective negotiation is not I win, you lose, it’s to get to a place where you would trust each other enough to work together again.”

When it comes to negotiation pitfalls to avoid, North Americans have several ingrained cultural “weaknesses.” Study some of the major ones so you can be more aware next time you go into a negotiation.

Pitfall #1: We have a very strong need to be liked. (The worst kind of negotiator is the one who seeks the approval of others.)

Sometimes this materializes in the form of small talk. "How about this weather?"

60 percent of people actually dread the classic small talk questions. Plus, it makes for an awkward transition.

The Fix:

"It is nothing personal. It's just business."

That should be the mantra running through your head if you are an amiable person and involved in a negotiation. Your opponent does not have to like you to make a deal. Maintaining their respect will go a long way to negotiating suitable terms. If you are too consumed with ingratiating yourself to the other side, you'll end up not thinking about their needs but your own instead. Listening and understanding your opponent’s viewpoint is number one. Your need to be liked does not even make the list. If this need is too strong, recognize it and move aside to allow someone else in your party to take the lead.

Pitfall #2: We let our egos get in the way of the objective.

This negotiation pitfall to avoid can be hard to acknowledge for some. Steven Hawking once said, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” Many times, we can get caught up in “title power” situations. Because you hold the title of President of your organization, your ego gets in the way to assert your power.

The Fix:

I would submit to never, ever, reveal your title within your organization so this negotiation gambit can not be used against you. Sometimes our egos need to suffer a little bruising for the greater good of our organizations.

Pitfall #3: We like the idea of compromise.

The word compromise is defined as an acceptance of standards that are lower than desired. Think of how many times you have been asked to “split the difference” or been asked to give a little because your opponent appeared to have given up some concession that was, allegedly, important to them.

The Fix:

Just because our opponent makes a concession doesn’t mean that you must follow suit.

Pitfall #4: We get pushy.

In North America, time is viewed as money, which makes this one of the worst negotiation pitfalls to avoid. In truth, when it comes to negotiating, patience is money.

People can feel your impatience. Try to close the negotiation too fast, and you'll get a false "no" in attempts to try to get you to back off.

In North America, we are subject to federal elections every four years. That is barely enough time for the winner to implement the policies they ran for and see a result before we are all thrust back into an election cycle. In other countries, our opponent may not have to worry about winning an election and can develop and implement a 50-year plan. If we are fixated on short-term wins, rather than stand back and play the long game, who do you suppose will blink first?

The Fix:

If possible, NEVER reveal you have a deadline. If you put a time limit on it, you’ll lose a negotiation due to the pressure to make a deal before a certain time period. Sometimes people don’t even bother to negotiate because they feel the time spent haggling costs them more than the result of their negotiations. When possible, don’t go into a negotiation with a mental time limit.

Pitfall #5: We need to know the answers.

The reality: It’s uncomfortable to enter a negotiation not knowing exactly what will happen. We love the idea of solid iron-clad contracts that try to spell out and anticipate absolutely every problem that could happen. Our zeal to nail down every detail can inhibit the flexibility needed to let a negotiation play out in multiple different ways.

The most basic example of this is the price tag. A price tag tells us how much the retailer is willing to accept as payment for their widget. Whereas, in almost every other country in the world, the price is decided via the barter system. North Americans are so conditioned to accept the price tag as the bottom line - our counterparts are just getting started. For many of us, the anxiety of “haggling” is so strong, that retailers have used it against us by having a “no-haggle sale.” Simply pay the sticker price and everyone is happy – especially the seller!

The Fix:

Prepare by learning and improving. Become a better communicator with every negotiation that you do so that next time, you will be more effective in saying something that will influence that person as nobody else can.

Pitfall #6: We detest silence.

Yet, this is probably the easiest of the negotiation pitfalls to avoid. If we say something during a negotiation, and the other side sits there looking at you and says nothing, we feel the need to fill that silence with more talking. In North America, we understand the silence to mean the other side is upset, so we start negotiating against ourselves and give up concessions to appease the other side when we don’t have to.

The Fix:

When you negotiate with someone and make your first offer, state your position, and let them stay quiet. The other side's reaction will come out. But what if they stay silent?  What do you do? You could submit a less desirable offer and see if their FOMO kicks in. You could say, then it looks like we have a deal, and check their reaction.


What did we miss? What are some of the mistakes and negotiation pitfalls to avoid that you've experienced?

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