Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 23 2016

The Most Valuable Trait You Should Have In Negotiations

David McMillin


With the 2016 PCMA Education Conference on the horizon next month, I’ve been outlining my schedule with the sessions and speakers I don’t want to miss during my time in St. Louis, and Deepak Malhotra, Professor at Harvard Business School and author of Negotiating The Impossible, is at the top of my list. Malhotra is an authority on something that dominates much of our lives: negotiation. From bargaining with your work colleagues to compromising with your family at home, negotiating plays a pivotal role in our professional and personal pursuits. And in the meetings industry, negotiating is an everyday activity. From securing more rooms in a housing block to asking for more concessions in a contract, meeting professionals and suppliers are always bargaining, brokering and aiming to reach agreements.

However, we aren’t always successful in our negotiations. Whether failing to get the salary increase you believe you deserve or struggling to motivate your AV provider to bring costs down, there are plenty of situations where the end result doesn’t match our expectations. Malhotra believes there is a key characteristic that can be a big difference-maker in the process.

“Empathy,” Malhotra said, when asked what characteristic best describes a great negotiator in an interview with Huffington Post. “The most important task of a negotiator is to understand, as well as possible, the interests, constraints, alternatives and perspective of the other parties. This is not about being nice or generous — empathy is essential for achieving your own objectives in the deal.”

“This does not mean you have to have sympathy for them, or to agree that their demands and perspective are legitimate,” Malhotra continued. “But you must make the effort to understand why they deem them to be appropriate. The greater your capacity for empathy, the more likely you find a way forward.”

Empathy means thinking about the questions that may not be directly related to the topic at hand, and it requires asking questions about what’s going on the other side of the table. What’s happening behind the scenes for the other party? Who else might he or she need to convince to get the contract signed? Why might he or she be struggling to accept the terms? If you can put aside your own objectives and consider what factors may be working against you, you’ll find yourself in a much stronger position.

SEE ALSO: Three Tips To Negotiating All Over The World

Ready to learn more from Malhotra? You don’t have to go to Harvard to hear him speak. Register for the PCMA Education Conference, and mark your calendar for his appearance on Tuesday, June 28 in the PCMA Business School. Click here to get a head start on your education with his new book.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Brenda Howes 24 May
    Thank you for this great article.  It is the first time of many (many) pieces written about negotiation that I've seen use the word 'empathy'.  Bravo!  Knowing what the other party needs is at the heart of understanding their positioning and ultimately your position.  

    Sincerely, Brenda

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