Negotiating with Stooges, Actors, Cheats and Liars!

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Whom would you choose to negotiate for your life – Trump or Johnson?

Most success in my businesses has been due to my learning how to negotiate. In my show, I say that all the authentic, long-standing and successful entrepreneurs I’ve met love what they do and love to make deals.

Negotiating is Donald Trump‘s default method of solving a problem or exploiting an opportunity. Theresa May and Boris Johnson, as career politicians, are unlikely to be highly skilled negotiators. They are more likely to default to ‘do it my way or the highway’ rather than aim for a win-win deal.

Donald Trump is a multiple business owner. He loves making deals and is proud of his negotiation skills. Thirty years ago he wrote a book called ‘The Art of the Deal’. The favourite tip I give negotiators is ‘hunt for variables’ so I was pleased to see Trump say “I never get too attached to one deal or one approach …I keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out, no matter how promising they seem at first.”

I’m no fan of Donald Trump or Republican Party policies but I don’t agree with his critics that say he can’t negotiate. He can and he does it all the time, every hour, and he prefers to spend his time with other people that know how to negotiate too.

It may get him impeached by Democrats if he has to release transcripts of his confidential face to face and telephone negotiations with world leaders. The cost to America and the world of negating his key skill of negotiating, for as much takes place informally as formally, could be massive to Trump, future Presidents and world leaders.

Trump is a business owner and has never been a politician. He loves enterprise and loves making deals. in his opinion making money was never what excites him, the money is only a way of ‘keeping score’.

This blog is about the importance, for most people, of learning negotiating skills and how we can learn as much from those with little or no skills as from the highly skilled.

As a Labour Party Member, I have no desire to meet Trump or Johnson but I’ll continue to learn from their very different negotiating abilities.

My dream gig would be Brexit

A recent negotiating gig I’d love to lead would have been the withdrawal agreement of the UK from the EU. Leading the trade negotiations, after a withdrawal agreement, would be even more fulfilling.

It may seem bigheaded and selfish but making a win-win deal which can positively affect the lives of millions, including 5.7 million small and micro-businesses in the UK, would be an all-time, career highlight. Also, it is usually a pleasure to negotiate with other negotiating professionals.

Greed, power, ambition and politics have prevented the UK parliament from accepting the withdrawal agreement as negotiated and signed.

There will be adverse repercussions on future EU-UK negotiations when negotiations re-open some time after the £8.3 billion in hedge funds, associated with the Cummings/Johnson strategy for EU Leave, have cashed in from short positions.

Fortunately, politicians don’t meddle in the type of negotiations you and I get involved in but even highly skilled negotiators can learn much from cock-ups like #Brexit.

A Lifelong Pursuit

“In business, as in life, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate” – Chester L. Karass

Learning and improving negotiating skills is a lifelong pursuit for entrepreneurs because making great deals is the fastest, most assured way to business success.

Chester L Karass, the high priest of negotiating skills, said that the most receptive, enthusiastic, attentive, questioning audience he spoke to was on a Saturday morning to 400 executives of Wal-Mart and their founder, Sam Walton.

Karass was amazed that Sam Walton, then in his seventies, and his executives took copious notes throughout his talk because Wal-Mart executives had a global reputation as great negotiators. Yet, they were still so eager to learn. That shows just how important win-win negotiating is to business, society, life and the avoidance of war.

Those that have seen my show know that I regard negotiating as the most essential skill for a business owner wishing to grow their business profitably. It is a skill worth working on and improving throughout your life as Sam Walton did.

To be successful as a negotiator it is essential to learn how to negotiate with non-professionals, including the stooges, actors, liars and cheats.

Should we have left #Brexit negotiations to the Dragons?

In my experience, a well known, successful entrepreneur meeting another well known, successful entrepreneur for the first time will start negotiating within minutes. They don’t even know they’re doing it, it’s so natural.

It may not be about a big thing, It may be about how long they’ll talk, what they’ll talk about, how they might help each other, whether they’ll meet again, who they can connect the other person with and what useful information they can swap.

They ask each other questions and are great at listening to the answers because they want to establish what’s important to the other party that they can exchange for something important to them.

Successful entrepreneurs do not waste time. The main reason they will see meeting another successful entrepreneur as a negotiating opportunity is that making deals is what they both do and have the power to do, immediately.

Because they are owners and key decision-makers in their businesses their integrity and capacity to make a deal there and then is not questioned and so finding common ground is a valuable use of their time. They both have the skills and they both have the power.

My friend, Janice Gordon who is the Key Accounts Sales Strategist, will know if I’m correct, but I’d be very surprised if negotiating a deal isn’t the preferred selling strategy of most business owners.

I’m certain that Deborah Meaden or any of the entrepreneurs on Dragons’ Den would have done a better job leading the UK Withdrawal Agreement negotiations than Government Ministers like David Davis and his many successors.

All the gear – no idea.

“I’ve seen politicians up close and personal and I have been really disappointed. We have professional politicians who behave like actors. They have lost all sense of purpose and integrity.” – Gina Miller

There are also many situations where one party is unwilling, incapable or totally opposed to making a deal. Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson and Steve Barclay have certainly not convinced Michel Barnier and the 27 EU Member Nations, negotiating team that they are serious about negotiating a new Withdrawal agreement that would be accepted by the UK parliament by October 31st.

Time is usually as important a factor in negotiations as money. For example, my best time to negotiate #PayIn30Days with large organisations that have a standard 60 to 120 days payment terms is before I contract for the work. If for example, I know that a conference organiser really needs me to speak at their conference, at short notice, I’ll start by asking for 100% upfront payment of fee and expenses.

I may settle for first-class travel, expenses 100% upfront, 50% upfront fees, 25% on delivery fees and 25% fees within 30 days. I’m using time as the key variable and, of course, like Trump and any other professional negotiator I aim high in my opening offer.

The most important two-letter word in negotiations is ‘If’. We use it to trade concessions ‘If you can give me an upgrade on my roofing/flooring/car extras/room/flight/contract/widgets/security then I can give you another booking/faster payment/more time/more opportunity/less red tape/publicity/referrals/money and so forth.

What if‘ is equally as important as we test what the other side is interested in accepting as an offer and what they might give us in return.

Unfortunately, most politicians seem to think the most important two-letter word is ‘No’. We can learn a lot about appropriate and inappropriate negotiating behaviours from our politicians’ contribution to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Negotiating with your own side

How is it that the EU negotiating team representing 27 member nations and their parliaments knew that the Withdrawal Agreement they’d signed would be enacted whereas, with the 28th member, the UK, their signature has proved worthless?

Making a deal one party then renegades on is not just a serious and costly waste of three years, it destroys all credibility between the parties and all confidence in the process.

Successfully negotiating with your own side before you make the deal is an essential rule in negotiations. In my case, for the last 30 years, my own side usually meant my business partner, Clare and my wife, Eileen.

Prime Minister Theresa May, made a £1 billion deal with the DUP to secure a working majority of votes in parliament but failed to negotiate a deal on the votes from her own side. Jacob Rees Mogg’s Tory ERG group, Boris Johnson and most of his current cabinet voted against the Withdrawal Agreement.

Both the EU and the UK sides had highly professional negotiating teams but only one was able to negotiate the deal with their ‘bosses’. Their bosses, the key decision-makers, were largely comprised of professional politicians who, unfortunately, are often incompetent negotiators and leaders.

Behaviour matters as much as skill

Cabinet Ministers are often arrogant and patronising. The language is of winners and losers, battles, fights, ‘surrender’, ‘getting over the line’, ‘do or die’ – it sounds more like a war with the EU rather than a negotiation. Professional negotiators remain calm, open and allow time for reflection, evaluation, building trust, consensus and re-establishing rapport.

Many politicians like the sound of their own voice and love to perform. Rapport, empathy, clarity, questioning, listening and summarising are all essential for dealmaking but soft skills are often in short supply among politicians.

Most leading politicians like to act tough but this often leads to them showing their hand too early – for example, all the talk about ‘red lines’. They are not known for their integrity and confidentiality. Leaking detail to the media is part of their political game but a deal-breaker in negotiations. ‘Mistruths’, misleading opponents, ‘divide and conquer’ and u-turns are all in their bag of tricks and none of these tricks helps get a win-win deal.

I know that the senior civil servants in the UK negotiating team will be top professionals as, back in the day, I and my company were involved in training fast track civil service graduates, and I have negotiated with many senior civil servants. However, it is clear that on the UK side the leading politicians have been a liability.

How to deal with the negotiator from hell?

Most buyer and supplier negotiations are carried out by two parties that have the necessary skills and authority to make the deal. However, unlike business owners, most of these negotiations are between two parties that are not the ultimate authority, the key decision-maker.

That’s OK – it’s best to negotiate with limited authority. Business owners should empower their employees, up to a limit, to negotiate with customers. How much better is it to stay in a hotel where the reception staff or waiting staff can resolve a problem there and then with a win-win deal of a new room, free drink or dessert.

Negotiating with someone who hasn’t the skills to come to a deal is more of a problem. Dealing with stooges, actors, cheats and liars can be hell in a box. I’ll give you my tips on how to handle these individuals but first, a story about one individual that was all of these – a stooge, actor, liar and cheat.

My first assignment as a qualified, HR Manager was in a print works at a time of lockouts and strikes in the print industry due to the introduction of new technology. I had 9 bargaining units (chapels) from 4 different unions to deal with.

The shop stewards (fathers and mothers of the chapel – sounds Dickensian doesn’t it?) knew that the new technology was the once in a lifetime opportunity to get local deals. The local deals could mean more pay, more productivity bonuses, better terms such as holidays, time off for training, more overtime, more breaks, more pension, more notice, more sick pay and more redundancy money.

Fiery ‘Fred’

One very clever NGA branch had elected as Father of the Chapel to negotiate with the management (me), Fred Smith (not his real name). Fred was a great compositor and a mild-mannered guy with his workmates, family and friends but he had his own unique style of addressing the enemy (the management).

Like superman, in a telephone box, he changed character completely. His superpowers were utter contempt, belligerence, outlandish claims, inexhaustible lungs, and selective, or total loss of, memory.

Success to ‘Fred’ was to get the full-time trade union official to the Print Works to resolve a walkout because he knew that would embarrass me and the local management the most. My embarrassment and lack of career prospects would ensue from my boss at the Group’s Head Office, having to travel many miles to give them a deal.

Eventually, I was promoted to the position of my boss – Industrial Relations Manager. It was a much easier job despite the pressure of £millions at stake, as I dealt with professional negotiators – the full-time officials from 7 trade unions representing over 4000 employees on over 50 sites. I know I owed my promotion to my having found a way to work with ‘Fred’. Here’s what I learned:

When dealing with actors, stooges, liars and cheats:

1) Never trade, make an offer or concede anything without trusted witnesses present – preferably, at least, one from their side and one from mine.

2) If caught one on one then just listen, smile, summarise and say you’ll get back to them. However, abusive or threatening they may get do not fuel their anger by interrupting or encourage their act by responding in kind. Simple non-loaded questions are allowed.

3) Make no concessions until you’ve found out where there is common ground and what the variables are which you might be able to trade. Remember, you’re looking for low cost, low importance things for you that you can package and trade which are high value, high importance to them. They may be afraid to start the bargaining process so you will have to make the first move or concession. I usually start with a ‘What if’.

4) Find as many opportunities as you can to find common ground, and these variables, off the record, and informally, with them and their colleagues. You have to be careful and assume that it may go on the record but it’s worth the risk. I used to wait until the last evening shift when there was no management in the building to go and have a cup of tea with them, in their workplace. A manager even daring to enter their lair was novel. It took a while to gain their trust that I would never say where, when or what we discussed.

5) it may seem silly and is certainly a non-tech solution but if you get movement or an agreement then sit next to them, write out in plain language, what you’ve agreed and both of you sign it. Give a photocopy of it to them and their mates.

6) Above all – treat negotiating as a game of strategy and tactics where both parties will end up winners. Even if you believe you’ve got the better deal you should never admit it. As one famous trade unionist said ‘You always leave the other person with their bus fare home’.

Most deals we make are fast, informal and on a handshake confirmed by email.

This article has concentrated on the skills for the big negotiations, such as buying or supplying, acquisition of funds or capital or a business partnership or opportunity. In your personal life, it may be about buying a property or a car.

I’ve trained executives on negotiating skills that are involved in big negotiations worth tens of £millions that take place over a year or more – such as selling interiors to a car manufacturer or computers or office furniture to a major corporation. The great thing is that the negotiating skills are the same whether it is a big negotiation or one we do every day with those we work with on who will do what and when.

We can learn every day how to improve this priceless skill set. We can learn as much from the cock-ups like Brexit as we can from the great leader/negotiators like Nelson Mandela. Here are the 5 areas you can always improve upon. We call it DIDBAB because my company was BAB Limited and we wanted a mnemonic that promoted our brand.


D is for ‘Deliberate’. This is how you think through and prepare to make a deal. It usually only takes a few minutes, perhaps as you travel to a meeting. You’ll think through your ideal, Realistic and Fall Back positions and where there may be common ground and what you can test they may be interested in.

I is for ‘Introduce’. The first few minutes are vital even if you have met the other party previously. You need to establish rapport and a mutually understood process to use your time together to get to an agreement.

D is for ‘Diagnose‘. This is usually 70% of the time of negotiation. So, if you meet for 10 minutes, you’ll usually spend 7 minutes on finding out what kind of deal they can do, what authority they’ve got, what’s important and not important to them and what the variables are that you can both use to trade. This phase is all about being highly skilled in questioning, listening and summarising.

B is for ‘Bridge’. This is the negotiating part – the ‘if you then I’ part. I liken it to two people leaving their opposite sides of the river and meeting in the middle of a bridge. Never split the difference but never be afraid to trade concessions.

A is for ‘Agree‘. This is making absolutely sure both parties know what they’ve agreed and are committed to carrying out what they’ve agreed. Make sure they are feeling it is a win-win – the best deal available for both parties.

B is for ‘Build’. This is about all the ways you can build the relationship so that the next time you negotiate with this person it will go even smoother and faster. Follow up calls, tweets, messages and emails will all come into the ‘Build’ phase.

An Entrepreneur’s superpower for growth and happiness is deal-making. With customers, suppliers and above all, other business owners, everything is negotiable.


The full ‘TR Backstage’ series of these long read, monthly blogs are at Also, there are videos, podcasts, articles, factsheets, guides and tips for prospective and existing business owners. All these resources are free with no sign-ups or pop-ups. The next blog in the series will be published on 26th October 2019 on ‘Business Partnerships – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.

More Tony Robinson OBE links and advice

Advice, Tips and Information from the MicroBiz ChampSmall is Beautiful
roll of Honour
Monthly Musing of the MicroBiz Champ

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