Who are the Best Negotiators?

Who ARE the best negotiators?

Is there one decisive, objective answer? Every negotiator will have a different answer, depending on their personality, experience, and beliefs. When I am asked that question, there are three negotiation role models that come to my mind.


The first is Warren Buffett. With an estimated wealth of $85.3 billion he has made no enemies and can drive around freely in his modest 2006 Cadillac XTS without a security detail. Being extremely successful and well-liked by all is a super rare combination, and one that is worth studying and learning.

Mr. Buffett is well known for doing his homework. He never relies on past experiences or sheer intuition, he studies. He has said his favorite activity is sitting in a quiet space, reading, studying. Many experienced negotiators often under-prepare; instead, they rely almost exclusively on history and their “gut”. This often backfires. Mr. Buffett knows that every negotiation is different, even if the negotiating parties are the same. He never trusts his past success to guarantee future success. This is very rare and admirable—and wise.

He is known for his integrity as well. He is quoted as saying to Goldman Sachs employees, “I won’t fire you if you lose money, but I will if you lie.”

Finally, he has managed to stay humble and is willing to take advice as well as give it. Humility, integrity, and a willingness to learn set Mr. Buffett apart from his peers.

Stick to the facts

The second role model for successful negotiating is a woman I had the good fortune to work with in 2008. We were hired by her company to help re-negotiate several bank loans during the 2008 crash. It was a very challenging situation, and this woman was chosen to lead the negotiation even though she was the least experienced on the team. Why? The leadership team did not have the stomach to face this group of furiously nasty bankers.

It was my job to help her prepare, and what happened was the Gold Medal of Negotiation, in my opinion.

The bankers were nasty, condescending, and rude. She was well-prepared, respectful, and professional.

And she had a backbone, would not be bullied, and was very persuasive. In the end, she won them over, and persuaded them to be flexible and consider solutions that they were not otherwise open to initially.

Both she and the bankers walked away from the negotiation with a decent agreement, but she also walked away with something else: job offers from each one of the banks. Why?

She stuck to the facts, did not let her ego get in the way, and she asked questions and then listened to understand. One mistake people often make is listening to respond, rather than listening to understand.

In a way, her lack of experience worked for her because she was willing and able to put aside assumptions that a more experienced negotiator might have made.

Go for it

And finally, hands down, the best group of negotiators? Children, of course.

Children are creative, persistent, know how to make a decent trade, and have no trouble being assertive and starting high.

This suggests to me that we are all born negotiators – we are socialized to be more compliant and less assertive negotiators. So, reconnect with your inner child. Realize it’s okay to ask for what you want, and then reach a compromise from there.

Remember to check out all our negotiation training courses!

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