Negotiation Mistakes: Own Them, Move on and Prosper

Have you found yourself exasperated by a colleague or partner who won’t own his or her mistakes? The minute an error is discovered, they offer excuses and deflections instead of responsibility and solutions. This is not only a time-waster because you have to take extra steps getting to the heart of the problem, but your whole team loses credibility and the value of your business relationship is undermined.

At K&R, we use the term Negotiation Capital™ to illustrate the goodwill that is created through credibility, good relationships and successful delivery. Negotiation Capital is like “currency.” It translates into the other side’s willingness to move closer to your way of thinking. If you lose credibility or have to backtrack due to mistakes, then you use Negotiation Capital as if you were “burning” currency. The other side’s willingness to deal with you and to compromise is reduced.

There is no quicker way to burn through your Negotiation Capital than by mishandling mistakes. This impacts the other side’s perception of your integrity, which means you will have to work that much harder to earn back your currency. I say “mishandling mistakes” instead of “making mistakes” because at some point, we’re all going to make one. (Or several!) What happens after the fact separates the successful negotiator from the unsuccessful one.

The best way to maintain your integrity — and therefore, your Negotiation Capital — is to take responsibility for your mistakes. Let’s consider a case where somebody on your team has made a calculation error for a complex services deal. The lead negotiator for the other side has spotted it, and he isn’t happy.

Before you argue and exacerbate the situation, be calm and verify the facts. Offer to review the figures in dispute and get back to your counterparts. If it turns out that the error is an oversight in your part, own it. If it’s a teammate’s slip-up…own that, too. If you are in the lead negotiator’s chair, you assume responsibility for the error and describe how you’re going to fix it. This earns you credibility and drives team unity.

This approach — especially where a teammate’s error is concerned — is important for three reasons:

  • By quickly confronting mistakes, we can maintain credibility and integrity.
    Every minute you spend deflecting or arguing in the face of an error, your position is eroding. There’s no taking back the mistake, but how your manage the process will have a big impact on whether or not you degrade the value of the deal you’re trying to make.
  • By supporting our teammates, we can prevent the other’s side’s divide-and-conquer tactics now and for the future.
    In some instances, the other side may see your team’s mistake as a tactical opportunity to break apart the unity of your team — and once again, erode your position. Resist the urge to “throw someone under the bus.” Instead, take responsibility as a leader, and get the process back on track as quickly as possible. Part of teamwork is good team management and support, even when a mistake is made.
  • Steal the other side’s thunder and increase your leverage.
    The other side may see a tactical opportunity and try to convert an honest mistake into an integrity issue to gain leverage. The minute you own the mistake, that tactic is defused. Even if the other party is not consciously using the error to gain advantage, you will still maintain leverage and reduce their anger and indignation.

Just as you would be more likely to return to a restaurant that apologized for a kitchen goof-up and threw in a free dessert (instead of arguing with you), your negotiation counterparts will be more likely to build a good deal and a lucrative, long-term relationship if you own your mistakes and deal with them front and center.