Why Negotiating Is Just Like Doing Squats

Let me share a short story. I used to hate doing squats at the gym. I would make good progress in every strength-training exercise except for the squat. My posture felt wrong, I had a hard time coordinating my movements, and my numbers would never improve. It was embarrassing, really. I ended up thinking of doing squats as something complicated, frustrating, and potentially dangerous; something I was better off avoiding altogether.

How do I feel about doing squats now? It’s become my #1 favorite strength-training exercise. Who changed my mind? A great personal trainer I met a few years ago who still trains me to this day. He taught me the right technique, helped me strengthen my weak spots while keeping the entire process challenging and motivating. He completely changed my perspective on squats. Now, I think they’re fun!

I have met many students over the years who saw negotiation just like I used to see squats: something hard and risky, something to avoid. Most people want to negotiate because they know that it’s the only way to obtain desirable outcomes. Their issue is they haven’t acquired the knowledge and developed the right skills to negotiate well enough yet to obtain these outcomes.

My goal is to help you acquire these skills. My approach to negotiation training is based on three tenets.

You need to learn the proper technique

A lot of people who claim to be great negotiators often mean that they are great at haggling. When people haggle, all they do is make price concessions until the other party agrees. It’s not hard, and it’s something you can learn quickly by mimicking others. Negotiation is a complex process designed to increase value and resolve conflicts. There are many ways one can screw up a negotiation.

To be a good negotiator, you need to know how to make the right decisions. Nobody was born knowing how to prepare for a negotiation, how to craft a first offer, or how to deal with negotiators who lie; these are learnt behaviors. Sure, you could rely on your intuition and figure things out on your own, but why would you try to reinvent the wheel when we already have established methods available?

For this reason, my next few emails will focus on proven methods and techniques to help you approach the main steps of a negotiation.

You can mitigate your risks

Negotiation mobilizes so many different cognitive and interpersonal skills that it would be unreasonable to expect excelling at all of them. Nobody is THAT good. Negotiating is a stress test on your entire system, which means that you are only as strong as your weakest element.

Maybe you are too focused on making your counterpart happy, and you often leave the negotiation table having regrets about your own outcome. Maybe you have the opposite problem and you only see a negotiation as successful if you completely crush the other party. Now, nobody wants to negotiate with you anymore. It could be many things, but there are usual suspects and there are ways to deal with them.

You can’t completely fix your weaknesses, but you can use strategies to work around them. This will be the second phase of our negotiation training.

Negotiation is a long-term commitment

Just like everything in life that has to do with human performance, negotiation training strictly follows the law of diminishing returns. This comes with good news and bad news.

The good news is that if you apply yourself to improving your negotiation skills, you will make progress very quickly in the beginning. This is a phase that people often find exhilarating because they feel like they have finally unlocked their potential.

The bad news is that the further you go in your negotiation training, the harder it will be for you to make new gains. You won’t be able to get by just by following basic rules anymore; it will be time to refine your skills. You will need to be exposed to increasingly complex negotiation situations, with incentives to keep you engaged and motivated throughout the process.

For this reason, my plan is to maintain this newsletter in the long-term, with fresh perspectives and different opportunities to engage.