It was the early 1990s. I took the last Lufthansa 737 out of Madchester to Frankenmanheimstein, jumped into the standard issue Merc taxi and checked into my wood panelled family run hotel with beer that takes an eon to settle, food that’s pork/asparagus/béarnaise and fried potato repeat-to-fade, and a tiny bedroom with a toilet that allows you, in fact requires you to, examine your poo, and a bill that comes to less than 100 Deutsche Marks. Cash only.
Next day I arrive at the supplier…
I am the fine chemicals buyer for ICI Parmaceuticals.
As per usual (I learn later) I am met by a mob: the techie, the sales guy, the ops guy, the MD, their number two’s (ha ha). They are all guys, of course. The stand out guy is called Herr Eigenmann, the company lawyer.
To cast him in a WW2 U-Boat movie as the captain would be to invite charges of stereotyping. He was 6 foot 4, chiselled, blue eyed, and spoke perfect English. As Michael Lewis the author said in his last book when describing a German financier – “he had no need for fat…or hair.” That’s Eigenmann.
We negotiated for 3 hours. Me, a few months out of the lab in my first commercial job, alone and abroad…vs a U-Boat crew.
I was sunk.
What I knew about negotiation could be written on the back of a stamp.
I needed to get educated and I went on a few courses but the light came on when I read “Getting to Yes – Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
Sadly, on 25th August Roger Fisher died aged 90.
The book he co-authored is the only book you’ll ever need to read on negotiation.
It’s a short book, you can read it in a few hours (I did re-read it once on the train going to see Unilever at their Art Deco HQ in London to try to recover £400K we thought they owed us. The book reminded me why they were never going to give the loot back to us. And they didn’t.)
By putting Fisher and Ury’s advice into practice over the last 20 years, I have better, more numerous and ultimately more profitable relationships because of my ability to negotiate. And so do the counter-parties. It’s win-win or I don’t play.
A lot of people find negotiation frightening. They think it’s combative, aggressive, win vs lose. They think it’s about running techniques and tactics on your opponent, thinking on your feet and being sneaky.
None of this is true.
Fisher was a law professor…
…at Harvard and he spotted that lawyers, who live in an adversarial culture, were rubbish at reaching agreement with the other side when it became time to settle. So he put some principles together to help teach his students how to negotiate agreement without giving in.
He also used his principles in real life. He convinced Reagan to sit with Gorbachev and exchange ideas, instead of the usual across the table us/them nonsense. There’s a ton of similar stories where he steps out of the conventional behaviour to get a win-win result.
I’m not going to go through his principles here. Buy the book if you want that.
Here’s my point – we need mentors to help us and mentors are everywhere. Fisher was and is a mentor to me. He did what I wanted to do. He could negotiate and I couldn’t.
His book is available for £2.99 on Amazon.
Three quid for the greatest book on negotiation ever written?
Books are a goldmine…
They offer the greatest ROI of any self-development you can do. But you’ve got to buy them, read them and take some action.
All the answers are out there, you just need to ask the right questions.
Twenty years ago I asked myself “how do I get good at negotiation?”
Roger Fisher and William Ury gave me the answer. For a few coins.
Roger, William – I never met you, but thank you. You made a difference to me.
(Thanks to The Economist for bringing Fisher’s passing to my attention.)