How to bounce back after a negotiation failure?

jak podnieść się po porażce negocjacyjnej

Each of us has been in one difficult situation or another. When I talk to experienced negotiators, each of them mentions at least a few such stories, so you see you’re not alone. Even the best make mistakes, stumble, and fail—it’s normal.

“They outplayed me like a child” – I hear this so often.

How will I face them now? I’ll always be a loser in their eyes…

Business is about people, and people are about relationships.

Relationships are not always good; they can be decent or even bad. I’ve witnessed occasions where individuals who didn’t like each other had to eventually negotiate to keep their businesses growing. There simply was no other option. We bury all grudges and do business.

So, what to do when things totally don’t go our way? Below, I’ll provide you with two case studies, mine and that of my client, two different solutions, but both incredibly effective.

Lack of Negotiation Technique Knowledge = Negotiation Failure

As a young employee, inexperienced in business, I was sent to negotiate the terms of a new trade agreement with France. It was a huge experience for me; I didn’t really know what to expect. No one taught me negotiation techniques or strategies, I couldn’t respond to different tactics. I didn’t even know they existed.

I remember vividly that I was supposed to negotiate purchase prices exactly as the then-director wanted, down to the last penny. What could I do? I flew there, sat at the negotiation table, immediately stated my assumptions, and waited with a smile for a YES, WE AGREE. However, as you can imagine, everything turned out completely differently.

The French didn’t even want to hear about such prices. I could feel they were embarrassed by the proposal. We weren’t a big company, so we didn’t have a strong business position either, so for them, such a proposal was simply laughable. I didn’t know what to do, I called the director, but he, unyielding, stuck to his guns. Seeing irritation on the faces of my negotiation partners, I knew it wouldn’t end well for me. However, I repeated my proposal, presented the same prices. And of course, that was the end of the negotiations.

On the way back home, I thought to myself, “maybe business isn’t for me, maybe I should change professions.” I wanted to disappear. On one side was my director, who wanted such prices, end of story, and on the other were my business partners, for whom such a proposal was, to put it mildly, “ridiculous.” Being in my twenties, I looked at my superiors as leaders; they were older, more experienced, so what they said was unquestionable for me. I knew that in their eyes, I had failed, and that hurt the most.

How wrong I was…

When did I realize this? During the second negotiation attempt, where my director was already present, and I was acting as a translator, since I didn’t perform well as a negotiator, I had to “just” translate. Unfortunately, there was no agreement then either because my director negotiated just like me.

After the meeting, where we experienced another failure, my director used specific “epithets” regarding our business partners in a conversation with me and went to his room. I was hungry, so I went downstairs for dinner. At the restaurant, I saw one of the representatives from the French company, Sophie. I asked if I could join her, what harm could it do when my image couldn’t get any lower—I thought.

Sophie welcomed me very warmly and, most importantly, made me realize that the style in which my director negotiated was the worst of all, and if I wanted to achieve anything in business, I had to do it differently. She offered to help, sent me a package of books on international business, in French, which was no small feat for me, but at that time, business literature wasn’t as widespread in Poland as it is now, and the internet was also limited, so access to knowledge wasn’t that great. However, Sophie step by step taught me, provided various case studies, sent various articles. She also invited me to a training session, which was in English.

I asked my business partners about everything related to business. By doing so, I built a relationship, and eventually started achieving my negotiation goals. I did it consciously and drew conclusions from every meeting.

I am grateful that Sophie appeared on my path, who opened my eyes, which made me change my values and priorities. Over time, I moved to an international corporation because I knew that working with foreign countries is what I want to do in the long run.

Cultural Difference as the Reason for Negotiation Failure

Below, I will describe another case of my client, who was responsible for cooperation with partners from India.

India, China, Japan, Korea are completely different countries, totally different cultures, business approaches, and different relationship-building patterns. My client knew this because he had been in this business for years.

During one of his business trips to India, he was forced to negotiate ad hoc. He didn’t expect that the Indians would want to renegotiate delivery terms. He thought it would be more of a “relationship-building” meeting than a business one. However, when they sat down at the table, reality turned out to be different.

The Indians very quickly made it clear that they wanted to renegotiate rates, to which my client was totally unprepared, he didn’t even have access to operating systems where he could accurately analyze purchasing volumes and other parameters without which negotiations are impossible. Fortunately, he had someone “on the phone” who provided him with the necessary information in real-time.

He managed to negotiate “something,” but it wasn’t the pinnacle of his dreams. After returning, he felt like a loser. He approached me for help. We analyzed step by step the entire situation, his correspondence with the Indians, and it was clearly my client’s fault. The Indians informed that they wanted to change the terms much earlier, but they didn’t do it directly. In international collaborations, reading emails, messages is very important, not only with understanding but also taking into account the cultural differences of a given country.

So what to do after a negotiation failure?

As you can see from both of these examples, the worst option is to run away, hide, and tell yourself that you’re not good at anything. Both I and my client returned to negotiate with our business partners with whom we lost before. This brought us not only new trade terms but also knowledge and business relationships. Draw conclusions from every meeting, and treat failures as a normal path that leads to the top.

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