Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter February 2008

Return to Newsletter Archives

The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)

Number 39, February 2008

The occasional newsletter of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)


The 1950's US television show Dragnet featured a police detective called Joe Friday whose interviewing technique discouraged both witnesses and suspects from injecting their feelings or observations into the discussion. His consistent trademark line was, "Just the facts, ma'am." He wasn't interested in commentary. The implication was that rationally demonstrable facts are all that's needed when making decisions.

Many people want to treat negotiation as a strictly rational process, assuming that facts alone will convince other parties. While facts are enormously important in helping our negotiation partners learn about the benefits we offer or the risks they may face if they don't take facts into consideration, often what one party sees as a fact is viewed as opinion by another stakeholder.

Sometimes this sort of impasse can be solved by looking at objective criteria that each party accepts as definitive sources of information. For example, in virtually all rich countries, there are books or websites that outline the appropriate price range for used cars. These are authoritative, objective sources of information that don't belong to the buyer or seller and can be used to break through disagreements on the appropriate price.

Sometimes, however, mere facts are not a sufficient basis for decisions. When one party's fact is not accepted as such by another, and when the parties cannot agree on an external objective source to solve the disagreement, facts are not going to be 'convincers'. Through much of history, sacred books or traditions have been used to buttress arguments about what is right or wrong, what is true or false. The problem is that, even within the groups that consider such texts sacred, there have often been contrary interpretations of the same language - or reference to other words within the same sacred text that can lead a believer to reach a different conclusion.

In real world negotiations, whether they involve business deals or decisions about leisure time activities, individuals' decisions are driven by many factors. Sheer rationality may be highly influential, but it is rarely the sole basis for collaborative decision-making. Attention must be paid to emotions, to underlying interests that may not relate directly to the issue at hand - but may be carried over from other factors in one's negotiation counterpart's professional or personal life.

For that reason, among others, negotiation must be treated as a search for information: "What factors (not facts) are driving my negotiation partner's decisions?" A skilled negotiator asks open-ended questions to learn what issues must be addressed to bring about agreement. The questions should aim to help one's negotiation partner divulge the underlying interests that, if served, will help bring about a workable agreement. Those interests can include factors such as ego, history, the parties' relationship, and even how the outcome of this negotiation may impact on other negotiations can get the process beyond mere rationality - and into the realm of an agreement that appeals to emotional underpinnings that will make it work.


Paul McDevitt has joined The Negotiation Skills Company as one of our certified Senior Trainers. With an extensive background negotiating real estate and other corporate issues in more than thirty countries, Paul brings skill, experience, and a mordant wit to the TNSC team.

Marsha Vaughan has retired as TNSC's vice president for marketing. Her seven years working for us were highly productive - and her personality contributed to TNSC's team spirit and relationships with our clients. We are sorry she has left our company - and our Company.

Final Word

"You can't reason someone out of something they weren't reasoned into."
-- Jonathan Swift

Good luck and good negotiating,
Steven P. Cohen, President
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

Return to Newsletter Archives

The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.   P O Box 172   Pride's Crossing, MA 01965, USA   
Voice: +1 978-927-6775     FAX: +1 978-921-4447
WEB:   E-mail:
Designed by: Online Marketing Strategies