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Rule Number 3 "Know your enemy and know yourself" Sun Tz


if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle'
Sun Tzu, from The Art of War

There was no greater war leader and strategist than Chinese military general Sun Tzu. His philosophy on how to be a great leader and ensure you win in work, management, and life is often quoted – for good reason. Sun Tzu also states the “Every battle is won before it is fought” – a point we picked up in our Rule No2.

Let’s be clear; although we are not fighting wars, we all negotiate on a daily basis. We negotiate with family members about how to spend our holidays; we negotiate with friends about how to pick up the bill for dinner; we negotiate with contractors about when to come to the house for a delivery or repairs. Doctors negotiate with patients when discussing alternatives of medical versus surgical therapy or, sometimes, no therapy at all. Scientists negotiate for resources, time and space to conduct experiments. Buyers and sellers negotiate over products and services. All of us negotiate for salary and job responsibilities. If you could just spare a second for this simple thought; if we could understand ourselves and the other party a little better, our chances of success would increase dramatically. We call this the preparation phase of any negotiation. You will be a better negotiator if you prepare thoroughly. Simple advice, but worth emphasizing.

This particular quote from Sun Tzu is a favourite of ours. In the starkest and simplest terms, it lays out what needs to be done during the preparation phase before a negotiation. To continue the military theme, it might be considered as the “intelligence preparation of the negotiating battle field” – or doing your homework thoroughly. Most importantly, it is more than just understanding the other party better – it is about understanding yourself, your motives and your style as well.

Really good negotiators understand themselves with stark clarity – they know their own foibles and weaknesses as well as their stronger points. They are able to deploy different persuasion and behavioural styles appropriate to the situation and other party. As a consequence, they achieve huge successes at the negotiation table. However, in our experience, most negotiators know neither themselves nor the other party in anything like sufficient detail. Unfortunately, these negotiators blunder into their negotiations supremely unaware of their own strengths and weaknesses let alone the other party’s. The resultant “Wow that was tougher than I expected, but at least we got there” hides the painful truth that they were totally ill-prepared for this negotiation and consequently lost a huge amount of value!

Beneath the veneer of simplicity implied Sun Tzu’s statement, there is a raft of greater detail covering vital areas in negotiation preparation such as:

  • Real objectives and business needs.
  • Commercial and financial requirements.
  • The importance, or otherwise, of the relationship.
  • Relative power and the fear of loss.
  • Potential tradeables, their value and how to use them.
  • Different behavioural types and the implications of this.
  • Interests versus positions taken by the other party.
  • Roles and responsibilities in the team.
  • Attitudes and frame of mind before, during and after the negotiation.
  • Effective communication styles.
  • Appropriate persuasion and influence techniques to be deployed
  • Worst case scenarios, BATNA and contingency plans.
  • The impact of culture and values on these negotiations.

Our advice is to spend half of your preparation time on your own position and the other half on the other party’s. And be objective in your analysis; do you really know what you need to. You can of course continue to blunder blindly into future negotiations.

But beware, for as Sun Tzu went on "If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril".

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