Luke Johnson on Negotiation in the Sunday Times – Very Good!

Normally my heart sinks when I see as article about negotiation in the national newspapers, particularly if it is written by some entrepreneur or CEO. That is much more common than seeing one written by a negotiation academic or anyone who actually negotiates for a living, of course.

The entrepreneurs tend to be even more sure of themselves than the corporate CEOs, and they are all, of course, absolute geniuses at negotiation, despite usually admitting that they "have never had a day's training in their lives" (as if that were something to be proud of)! Their advice tends to be along the lines of be tough and shout louder than the other party, or be a wonderful warm, charming human being like them and the other party will just naturally give you whatever you want.

So when I saw the headline in the Sunday Times Business section - saying "Luke Johnson - Learn the art of negotiation" I had low expectations. But in his regular column, titled Animal Spirits: It’s vital to master the art of negotiation, the guy who successfully developed Pizza Express and other restaurants, and now chairs Risk Capital Partners, gives some really good advice to anyone in business and involved with the negotiation process.

The article starts well, with him saying that he is "not sure" whether he is a good negotiator." Wow - an entrepreneur admitting he might actually not be the greatest negotiator in history! Negotiators should be "well-prepared, unemotional and patient" to be experts, which is true - and he is not sure he is any of those.

He talks favourably about mediation as opposed to litigation, and say that "contracts of any kind should require all parties to make sincere initial attempts to sort out their differences through mediation before serving claims," which is also good advice, and would save many organisations an awful lot of money.

He then talks about negotiation in the context of purchasing a business, complex processes that inevitably have multiple variables and factors to discuss, not just price. He discusses how both parties can explore options, which is in line with the classic Getting to Yes principle which is "invent solutions for mutual gain." As Johnson says, “The best negotiations are ones where imagination allows the two sides to devise mutual advantages that turn it into a win-win experience.” There is even a brief discussion of asymmetric information, and how the balance of power can shift as we move though a negotiation process.

The final section of his article sees him questioning how the BBC is playing its negotiation hand in its discussion with the government about the licence fee. His “initial impression is that it has overplayed its hand with an aggressive, pre-emptive attack on the government’s green paper." That is another fascinating question – we’ll come back to the BBC I’m sure in coming weeks or months.

Unfortunately, the article is behind the Times paywall. But if you are a subscriber then you can read it here - it's well worth a look.

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