Mistakes Hurt a Negotiator

Everyone makes mistakes. To try and fail is far better than not trying at all. Unless failure spells your demise! In today's civilized world, failure at the mediation table seldom results in death for one of the parties.

Fear of failure, however, can paralyzes otherwise competent negotiators. That is a major problem in that we must face and embrace the act of negotiating in every aspect of our public and private lives.

We are taught to win in America and almost any cost. Winning is what we are about as a culture, a society and as a nation. The problem is that everyone can't win. In fact, most sports teams don't win their conference titles. Only one team prevails.

So if we are expected to win but reality mandates that only a small percentage of us can actually be winners how are we to handle coming in second best?

In a good poker game the worst thing that can happen is to draw a hand that is second to the best possible hand. In a game like Omaha you can see from the board what the possibilities are. If there are three diamonds showing but no pair on the board you know that a flush is likely but a full house impossible. Your king high flush is so good, the second highest possible hand, you have to stay in and match all bets. But, if others are betting aggressively, you know someone else likely has the ace high flush. But you are not sure. And, as they always say, to win you have to play.

Second best hurts simply because there is no reward for being second across the finish line on in poker. But there is comfort in knowing that all of us lose from time to time. The key is to win more than we lose. That means learning from our mistakes.


Yes, we all make mistakes. No worries, everyone makes them. Coming in second should only motivate us to sharpen our skills and try again.

Mistakes come in varying sizes. The bigger the mistake, the more likely it will be noticed. If, in that poker game, you are beat by several other players, then you need to assess how you are calculating the odds. Obviously you are not reading the hands right.

In a negotiation small errors are recoverable and forgivable. Large errors implying deceit or ignorance can prove very costly. How to handle mistakes made in a negotiation:

If it is an innocent error, admit it and move on. Do not offer to compensate the other for the faux pas. It was unintended. Everyone makes mistakes. What's the big deal? It can be blamed on moving too quickly, not catching a minor change in a document, or simply a typing error. Don't give it any more attention than you would a clerical error. Be willing to do the same if the other person slips up. If it is not material move on.

If it was a tactical blunder or bluff that was called, assess the real damage. Some compensatory groveling may be in order. You may be able to ease the situation by suggesting that you had to try it, even though you knew it would not fly. Or that you were not sure how firm he was in his position and had to test the waters. You can even feign humor asking the other person if he really thought you were serious. If really desperate you could claim that you knew better but your boss made you to try it. The bottom line is that you will have lost ground and will need to redouble your efforts to make it up. You credibility, at a minimum, will be diminished.

If the mistake involves a lie or falsehood and it is discovered you have a significant problem. Your integrity in on the line and the other person has every right to walk away. Before you can get back into the negotiation, you need to repair the relationship. Be prepared to take the brunt of the other's wrath. You deserve it. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may have to suggest replacing yourself as negotiator. This is best done if the situation is very important. You can and should fall on your sword and tell everyone the deal is too important to be jeopardized by a stupid act on your part, then bring in a new face to handle the salvage operation.

Your word is or should be sacrosanct. Do not soil your good name to win a battle. You will place the war in jeopardy. Innocent mistakes or mistakes made in haste are forgivable. Lies and deceit erode your ability to negotiate effectively.