Streetwise Tactical Negotiationsby Tom O'Connor on April 25th, 2010
The 1970’s TV series, Columbo, was something of groundbreaking event in the history of the crime fiction genre.
It differed from the usual run-of-the-mill in that there was no mystery about the identity of the murderer – as it was usually revealed in the very first scene.
Streetwise negotiating skills
The real suspense lay in how exactly Lieutenant Columbo was going to snooker the murderer into revealing his guilt.
Hence, it is often referred to as a ‘howcatchem’ rather than a ‘whodunnit’.
This also explains why the series is so often referenced in management development circles for the wealth of streetwise negotiating skills depicted.
For in essence, Lieutenant Columbo, in his signature trench coat and beat-up car, wasn’t so much a great crime investigator as a great negotiator – particularly, in the manner of always getting his quarry to underestimate him.
Whenever there is a strain in relations between two parties such negotiation skills prove pivotal.
Shift in negotiation styles
Like murder, recessions too can provide an interesting backdrop to negotiations, where cost-savings, pay-cuts and debt collections can seriously stretch relations between players: contractors & sub-contractors, buyers & sellers, borrowers & lenders, management & employees.
Expediency suddenly begins to drive conduct and parties turn to whatever hard-ball tactics they can to bolster their own positions.
The principles-based doctrine of negotiation, popularised by Harvard’s Fisher & Ury in their long-running bestseller, Getting to YES, is quickly discarded – and its notions of collaboration and win-win outcomes soon forgotten.
Instead, the more primitive negotiation styles resurface: the bare-knuckle, competitive variety, where participants focus on wielding whatever power and wiles they can muster to win concessions from the other side.
Toughness in negotiation
This is daily reflected in the current media, in the tough rhetoric that suddenly seems to have taken over the airwaves.
The alpha-male (and alpha-female) is so much back in vogue.
To appease the mob, rightly angered by the fallout from the banking crisis, politicians and media pundits the world over are trying to outdo themselves in these talking tough stakes.
Toughness in the face of fraud or careless performance is, of course, justified.
But, will these new tough negotiating tactics be so discerning as to spare the innocent, one wonders.
For, the lessons of history would warn that in curing the disease, we can indeed often overdose on the medicine.
Negotiation skills for tough times
The words of renowned negotiating guru, Chester Karass are worth recalling:
You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.
And, in these times, that means Columbo-style negotiating – streetwise & tactical.
PS. Inquire about our related Torc training workshop: Learning From The Movies© – Negotiation Skills.
PPS. For related negotiation blogs, please click on the following Torc links:
1. Cool Hand, Hustle & Sting
2. Women make better negotiators
3. The art of the haggle
4. Negotiating – eyeball to eyeball
5. Humphrey Bogart’s dual duel
6. Negotiating: when the stakes are high
7. Stand-offs … & face savings
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