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You Have the Power to Walk Away… But Should You? – February 2010 Master Negotiator

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“The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people half way.”

-Henry Boyle

Win-win negotiation is all about getting what you want, but also ensuring that the needs of your counterpart are met. Why is the success of your counterpart critical? Because, in real life negotiations, chances are good that you will negotiate more than once with the same counterpart: for example, with your boss, a coworker, family member or friend. When either party walks away, whether they chose to or are forced to by an un-yielding counterpart, bridges are burned and ties are cut. This is clearly not a good tactic when negotiating with individuals with whom you’re close to, but is it different for business?

Please feel free to contact us with any negotiation questions or article ideas. We’ll do our best to address them in upcoming issues. (peter@pbsconsulting.com)

Remember, almost everything in life is negotiable.

Peter B. Stark & Jane Flaherty


Let’s say that you and your spouse are having a serious discussion about an upcoming vacation destination. You want to hike the Grand Canyon, while your spouse argues that a cruise will provide you both with entertainment, great food and much needed relaxation. You are both arguing passionately about your choices for the vacation and have a strong need to achieve your outcome. At any point, you could use the tactic of threatening to walk away from the negotiation by saying, “Fine, if you won’t come with me to Arizona, I’ll go by myself.”

Recently, Google tried just the same tactic with China, saying that if China continued to censor Internet use, Google would pull out of China. Within minutes, it appeared that Google was reconsidering the threat to leave. Here are just a few facts that came to light after Google used the tactic of: “If you won’t play our game by our rules, we’re out of here:”

  1. Google’s threat to pull out of China drew little reaction among the country’s 384 million Internet users. The prevailing sentiment was that if Google left, there would be other choices. T. R. Harrington, CEO of Shanghai-based Darwin Marketing, said, “It’s like in the U.S. saying, ‘You can’t use Yahoo search anymore.'”

  2. China has its own search engine, named Baidu, which is used by 60% of China’s search engine market, and gives users access to 3.2 million registered Web sites.

  3. Goggle took a stand on China’s censorship of the Internet, but most Chinese users are currently in their 20s and are known for their love of consumerism and disdain for politics. Their favorite online activities are listening to music, chatting with friends and playing video games. As such, there was very little public outcry when Google threatened to depart.

From an outsider’s perspective, China’s official reaction seemed to be, “Fine. If you don’t like our laws, you don’t have to be here.” While we don’t have closure on the Google/China standoff, Google appears to have backed off on their threat to pull out of China, perhaps acknowledging the financial consequences of this decision. China, with nearly 400 million Internet users, is seen by many as one of the most important and fastest growing Internet advertising markets in the world.

Whether the threat to walk away from the negotiation occurs between big players, such as Google and China, or over a family disagreement, the outcome is almost always the same – there are winners and losers. And, the losers are typically reluctant to play the game again. In the case of Google vs. China, there is potential for both to become losers. If you use this tactic, it will most likely be your last negotiation with this counterpart. Walking away from a negotiation will work, but only if you have no intention of continuing the relationship. If you chose to put this tactic into play, make sure you’ve thought the consequences through completely. In the Grand Canyon example, you could just go to the Grand Canyon no matter what your spouse says, but it might be a lonely trip with a difficult homecoming.

  1. Negotiate using the “If… then” tactic. Compromise is difficult, because both sides are reluctant to back down from their original stance. The “If… then” tactic seeks a compromise based on mutual agreement. Meaning, if you could agree to a counterpart’s stance, would they concede a part of their stance and accept your proposal? For example, you might say to your spouse, “If I agree to do a cruise with you this year, would you then agree to come to the Grand Canyon with me next year?”

  2. Try “Sweetening the Deal.” This tactic is used extensively in business to make a deal work. When a buyer balks at a price or condition, the seller often says something like, “Of course, that comes with a full three year warranty at no extra cost, and we’ll even throw in the delivery for free.” The same approach could work well in negotiating your vacation. You might get your spouse to agree to your travel plans by adding, “If you came with me to the Grand Canyon, we’d stay three nights at the historic Yavapai Lodge on the South Rim of the canyon, and then how about we spend the next four days at that spa you like so much in Sedona?”

  3. Use a “Trade off Concession.” Effective negotiators aim to never concede a deal point without getting something in return. Using this tactic to negotiate your quest to get to the Grand Canyon, you might try this approach. “Honey, I know the cruise is important to you, and I like cruising also. But, we’ve only got so much money in the budget and not much time off. Rather than doing a week long cruise, would you consider the three day Mexican Riviera cruise departing from San Diego? If we did that, we’d still have time left for our visit to the Grand Canyon.”

In our book, “The Only Negotiating Guide You’ll Ever Need,” we refer to the tactic of walking away as, “These Boots are Made for Walking.” In any negotiation, you have the power to end the negotiation by leaving, or threatening to leave. Our recommendation: pick your strategy carefully, considering other options and the ultimate consequence or damage to the relationship if you exercise your ability to walk away from the negotiation. If the negotiation is a one-time only negotiation, or you hold all the power in the relationship, you may well benefit from taking a hike. However, if you exercise your options under situations where on-going relationships are important, we recommend that you use caution and pick your strategy carefully.

We invite you to join us next month, when we will present the flip side of using “These Boots are Made for Walking” and share with you how a mass merchandiser effectively uses this strategy to their advantage.

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