By: Constance Lee Menefee

"You get not what you deserve, but what you negotiate," writes veteran businessman Tom Gillis in his book Guts & Borrowed Money (Bard Press).

Life is negotiation. And if money is involved, the stakes are always high.  Small businesses are hotbeds of negotiation.  Owners don't always recognize this fact.

Those terms you have with your major vendor?  You negotiated those. Whose best interest are they in: yours or the bank's? With your customers, you strike a balance between cost, service, hours and other less tangible items.

Do you have all the skill you need to get what is best for you as well as what is best for your customers and vendors and suppliers?

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury (Penguin Books) and its sequel Getting Together by Roger Fisher and Scott Brown (Penguin Books) are two classic guides to negotiation. You Can Negotiate Anything  by Herb Brown (Citadel Press) is the book recommended by Tom Gillis in his discussion.

A thumb-nail sketch of principled negotiation:

  • First, separate people from the problem. Emotions are a fact of life, whether or not you are comfortable with yours or the other person's. See yourself and your "adversary" as working side by side to solve the problem, not as opposing armies.
  •  Focus on interests, not positions. The problem in most negotiations is conflict between egos, needs, desires and fears, not conflict between actual positions. You want to buy widgets, but money is tight. Your supplier would like to sell widgets, but fears your financial situation. Your bank is cutting all its small business clients loose. How do you fix this without shouting into the phone and sending threatening letters?
  • Each side needs to make a list of options, of possibilities, before deciding what to do.  Don't pre-box yourself or the other side into a less than optimal outcome.
  • Reach for objective criteria.  Is there a fair market value?  What is usual and customary? Find the average, the standard, and work from there for everyone's best interests.
  Article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Post, Sept 9, 1997