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Why is a ‘growth mindset’ critical in negotiations?


By Mike Lander | Founder & CEO

March 8, 2022 | 6 min read

I was with a friend, Alison, last week, and she said this about a negotiation she was leading: “I was so angry, the red mist appeared and I found myself digging in and defending my position. Luckily, I called a quick break, went to the balcony and pondered. I started seeing it more from their perspective and clarified my own thinking. I managed to hit my own reset button and went back with a clear head and new options to explore.”

Mike Lander Column 13

How can you apply "growth mindset" in the context of negotiations

The message here is about resilience and embracing a challenge; both are key attributes of a growth mindset. This got me thinking, so I did some research. I came across a fantastic article by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. It’s all about the characteristics of a growth mindset: “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking with it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

So, I’ve focused this month’s article on the characteristics of a growth mindset and how it applies in the context of negotiations.

What you’ll learn in this month’s Ask the Negotiator column is:

  • Typical characteristics of a growth mindset

  • Example characteristics of successful negotiations

  • Conclusions and what to do in your next negotiation

Typical characteristics of a growth mindset

Drawing on the work by Dweck, here are my takeaways about people with growth mindsets:

  • They embrace challenges, i.e. they’re very comfortable with ambiguity and new problems to solve

  • They have persistence and resilience in the face of setbacks. This doesn’t mean blindly following a path that is clearly going wrong. To me, it means trying new things, seeing what works and adapting. Resilience is all about recovering quickly from difficult situations, i.e. bouncing back

  • They pursue mastery. They think about things deeply, and push boundaries. They’re constantly learning from their own experiences and those of others. They’re open to constructive feedback. They challenge ‘received wisdom’ and assumptions

Example characteristics of successful negotiations

  • Preparation delivers >80% of the value. All the research (and my experience) shows that people who prepare well for negotiations get better outcomes

  • Emotions have no place at the negotiating table. You must be able to separate your emotions from solving the challenge. Being emotionally charged at the negotiating table can have catastrophic results

  • Viewing negotiations as a fixed-size pie to carve up. Great negotiators are able to expand the size of the pie for all parties. This is about deal creativity during the planning and negotiation process. There’s a good explanation on the Harvard PoN site with examples

  • Objective criteria make a massive difference. Mutually-agreed objective criteria enable both parties to assess if this is a good/reasonable/fair deal. A good example would be both parties agreeing to use independent industry benchmarking data as part of the negotiation

  • Asking open questions and probing assumptions. You’re aiming to understand what lies behind the statements people make. Find out their motivations beneath the demands they make

Conclusions and what to do in your next negotiation

When I did the research, and really thought about it, these were my key conclusions:

  • Every negotiation is a new challenge, a leap into the unknown. You rarely know in advance what the other side is truly thinking. Growth mindset-oriented people think about it in advance – they develop objective criteria, they prepare, then they adapt. They use a consistent framework and set of tools

  • No plan survives contact with your counterparty. There will be setbacks in every negotiation. Growth mindset-oriented people see these as opportunities to learn. They don’t get emotional – they ask questions, deepen their understanding and adapt

  • With mastery comes an abundance of options. Growth mindset-oriented people are constantly learning about how to create more value – they make the pie bigger.

Before your next negotiation, I recommend you do the following:

  • Re-read this article. Write down your objective criteria, and share them with your counterparty

  • Build a negotiation plan and be prepared to adapt (email me if you’d like to talk through the frameworks I use)

  • Think hard about how to create more value at the negotiating table

I’ve especially enjoyed writing this month’s column. Bringing together thinking and experience from the worlds of psychology and negotiation has identified new ideas for me. I hope it has for you too.

If you have any comments or questions about anything in this article, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email.

Mike Lander is chief executive officer and founder of Piscari, which empowers agency leaders with better negotiation skills and insights into how procurement professionals work.

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