The Sporting Rules of Negotiations


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If you want to succeed at negotiations, you need to understand that negotiations are like a game. And, just like any game, the prizes go to the side that understands the rules and plays better. Here are 8 rules taken from the game of squash that can be applied to the game of negotiations.

Rule 1: Get Fit. Good negotiating is an art that is learned from experience. Like any game, the more matches you play, the fitter you get. Fortunately, you can practise negotiations in everyday situations, from booking a holiday to buying a car, to ordering a meal. And then you should let your experience be your teacher.

Rule 2: Seek An Advantage. All games are defined as interplays in which one side seeks an advantage over the other. It's the same with negotiations. Every move you make should be aimed at securing an advantage over the other side.

Rule 3: Follow the Ball. In squash, it is what happens to the ball that matters not what happens to the player. In the same way, in negotiations, it is the issues that are important not the personalities. Your opponents may try to use every trick in the book to unsettle you. They may flatter you, charm you, cajole you, ridicule you, threaten you, reward you, belittle you, sweet-talk you. All of this is to get you to budge on the issues and concede to what they want. Keep your eye on the ball and don't give ground.

Rule 4: Cover The Ground. The best squash players are the most versatile ones. They can serve, block, defend, attack, rally, wait their turn, go for a winner. The same is true of top negotiators. They have a repertoire of arguments, tactics, gambits and positions; they can move forwards, backwards and sideways at will; and they never find themselves trapped in a corner or short of a creative solution out of an impasse.

Rule 5: Think Ahead. The skilful in all sports are those who are able to think ahead and see possibilities. The same kind of anticipation is valuable in negotiations. Before you make a proposal to the other side, anticipate how they are likely to react and be ready with your answer. When you think ahead, you give the impression of being on top.

Rule 6: Don't Relax. There is just a brief moment after you play a good shot in squash when you become vulnerable. You allow yourself a congratulatory smile for being on top. This is when you can let down your guard. It's the same in negotiations. Don't relax; don't rest on your laurels; don't think you've won; don't feel pleased with yourself; don't look back. You have a job to finish, so toughen up.

Rule 7: Think It Through. Every shot you make in squash should be made mentally before you make it physically. Do the same in negotiations. Whenever you make a proposal or reply to one, think it through:
* don't dismiss a proposal from the other side out of hand or simply because you distrust them: think it through
* don't give instant or off-the-cuff responses: think it through
* don't talk on behalf of your colleagues, they may have ideas you hadn't thought about. Adjourn and think it through.

Rule 8: Stay In Crouch. The “crouch" position is squash is the ready position. You should start in crouch and stay in crouch until the match is won. The equivalent position in negotiations is the “tough" position. The opposition will try to weaken your position by every trick: mentally, emotionally, and physically. Aim to stay tough.

Practise these rules until they are second nature to you, and you'll not only win at squash, you'll also be a top negotiator.

(c) Eric Garner,

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