Editor's note: We asked America's top negotiating pros--Kenneth Feinberg, Kevin O'Leary, Leigh Steinberg, Richelieu Dennis, and Eugene Driker--to share their haggling tips and strategies so you can ramp up your dealmaking game.
The Future of a City at Stake
The city of Detroit was $18 billion in debt when it filed for bankruptcy in 2013. A team of mediators worked to help the city create a debt-reduction plan--a process expected to take years. The city's most valuable asset, and the one creditors were most interested in, was the $800 million collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The city didn't want to lose this piece of its history.
Retirees and union workers wanted to keep their pensions intact. Months into the negotiations, Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, reframed the discussion. "We were talking about preserving pensions," says Eugene Driker, an attorney at Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker who was one of the mediators. "Walker said, 'That's thinking too small. What you're talking about is preserving the city of Detroit.' "
The mediators took that mindset into their negotiations, and soon the pieces began moving into place. State legislation, donors, and foundations gave $816 million to purchase the art and prevent it from being taken by creditors. Pensioners, who had previously rejected cuts to their benefits, agreed to 4.5 percent reductions. "Everybody laid down their swords," Driker says. "It became about seeking a resolution for the common good." After 16 months, the parties reached agreement. The judge who OK'd the city's debt-repayment plan wrote that the bargain "borders on the miraculous."
Create an ally
Talk to an opponent behind the scenes to identify common interests; ask the person to introduce points you both agree on. "If you're known to be a proponent for something, your words might not have much sway," negotiation researcher and Harvard Business School teacher Kevin Mohan says. "If someone else can speak up for you, it's a lot more powerful." It's best if you can find that ally before negotiations even start. Ross Sapir, founder of New York City-based Roadway Moving, meets frequently with smaller rivals--whom he often ends up negotiating with--and offers them industry advice. "We're competitors, but we're friends," he says.
Make it a shared search for solutions
"The parties begin thinking about the deal in terms of what they're willing to give up to achieve it," says bargaining educator Melissa Thomas-Hunt, senior associate dean at University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. When one of Sapir's smaller rivals gets a job it can't handle, like a long-distance or international deal for which it lacks capacity, Sapir offers to take the job and give the rival a 10 to 15 percent rebate. If the rival is hesitant, Sapir shows it the big picture. "They keep their relationship with their customer, and I get more business," says Sapir. "It's a win-win."
Point out how you've helped
"Show the other side: We're not fighting. We're trying to achieve the same thing," says Alison Fragale, an associate professor of organizational behavior at University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School. Sapir reminds rivals that balk at his revenue-sharing deal that he's taking a reduced fee to help them build their business and keep their customers happy. "In today's world, customers expect you to find a solution," he says.
Don't talk first
"There's a reason we have two ears and one mouth," professional mediator Paul Monicatti says. To learn your opponent's interests, "always start by listening."