This week we interviewed Brian Gunia, Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and author of the recently-released The Bartering Mindset: A Mostly Forgotten Framework for Mastering Your Next Negotiation.
Could you tell us a bit about your background?
I’m an Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. I study three ways that people commonly jeopardize their careers: by acting unethically, negotiating ineffectively, and sleeping insufficiently. Instead of focusing on self-defeating choices themselves, though, I focus on simple, theoretically-motivated steps that individuals can take to act more ethically, negotiate more effectively, and sleep longer or better. I teach a variety of negotiation and organizational behavior courses. Before my academic career, I worked as a consultant at Deloitte.
Why are you passionate about this topic? What excites you about it? What fascinates you?
I’m passionate about negotiation, in particular, because it’s an area in which people can readily improve their own lives. Most of us negotiate every day, multiple times a day—with family members, coworkers, and yes, vendors. By changing our behavior in a few simple ways, most of us can lead significantly happier and more prosperous lives.
What is one thing you think most people don’t realize about negotiations? What are some common misconceptions?
The biggest thing people don’t realize about negotiations is that they’re everywhere, all the time. When someone says “negotiation,” most people think of buying a car, asking for a higher salary, or sitting across the boardroom table from a business partner. They don’t think of discussions with a spouse about restaurants, discussions with a bank about fees, or discussions with a coworker who hasn’t been pulling their weight. Anytime we depend on somebody else to achieve our own goals, we can negotiate. By associating negotiation with a few limited contexts, however, we severely limit our ability to reap the benefits of negotiation.
The second-biggest misconception about negotiation is that it’s all about figuring out how you can beat someone else. That’s far from the full story. Negotiation is about solving a problem in a way that benefits multiple parties at the same time. Sure, you’ll eventually have to nail down the price. But most people assign that aspect of negotiation far too much emphasis, often completely ignoring the many other (and potentially more important) aspects of the deal that can benefit everyone at the same time (or at least help one party more than they hurt the other).
What do you think is the safest bet for ‘state of the art’ for effective negotiations five or ten years from now?
The safest bet is that the misperceptions in the previous question are not going to disappear anytime soon. So we, as committed and aspiring negotiators, need to help ourselves and others see the negotiations all around us. And we need to be vigilant in treating negotiations as opportunities to find unexpected value, not just opportunities to crush our counterparts.
You seem to be looking at three inter-related practices: unethical behavior, ineffective negotiation or sleep deprivation. Have you noticed any deep connection between these three topics that might escape the untrained eye?
I think the deepest connection is that most people think these issues are not going to threaten their own careers or personal lives—until they do. In other words, most people think they will never fall prey to unethical temptations, already know how to negotiate, and can deal with sustained sleep problems. But then they find themselves unwittingly slipping into a scandal, inexplicably failing at the bargaining table, or letting their sleep problems severely damage their work. Don’t let it be you!
Our audience for this blog is predominantly procurement professionals who must negotiate optimal commercial terms with vendors. How can some of your best practices that are applicable to a salary or professional negotiation provide insight for this use case?
The key word is “terms.” Fixating on one price with one counterpart is sure to produce an impasse or, best case, a deal that nobody finds satisfactory. Treating negotiations with vendors as opportunities to trade several of your priorities for several of theirs is likely to produce some much more creative (even exciting) deals, especially over the long-term.
What’s some advice that you can give to people who might be interested in generally improving their negotiation skills?
I would honestly suggest reading my book, The Bartering Mindset, which offers a new and different way of thinking about negotiations. Briefly, we often negotiate badly because we treat negotiations like monetary transactions (adopt a “monetary mindset”): We think of ourselves as locked in a battle with one party over one issue, on which the other party wants the opposite. The book teaches you to treat negotiations like bartering trades instead (adopt a “bartering mindset”). In other words, it teaches you to see negotiations as opportunities to make a series of mutually-beneficial trades with multiple partners. The latter is not only much more beneficial. It’s much more fun!