Everything (almost) is negotiable

Within the past few years, some of the best-known names in American industry have disappeared down the gaping maws of other companies.  Other seemingly unassailable fortresses have been disassembled, and the parts sold off separately.  Nothing unusual about that.

If huge enterprises, some so valuable their assets exceed those of many of the world’s nations, can be bought and sold, cut up into little pieces or put together into bigger pieces, then there’s no deal that you and I can contemplate that can’t be put together.  A deal can always be made when the parties see it to their own benefit.

Nine out of 10 lawsuits are settled before judgment is rendered in the courtroom because even the bitterest of adversaries will sit down at the same table when they can be shown there is a greater advantage to themselves in negotiating than in fighting.

Whatever it is you are trying to buy or sell can be bought or sold if you can get the other side of the table to see how the deal works to their advantage.


No matter what industry you’re in, or how far you go in your career, the ability to effectively negotiate can make the difference between success and mediocrity.  Whether it’s a multimillion-dollar contract or a job offer, keep this advice in mind:

  • Know what you want.  Don’t go to the table without a clear, realistic idea of what you want to achieve.  It will help you negotiate with confidence.
  • Ask for what you want.  Let the other person make the first offer, then respond and set the tone for the discussion.  That way you’ll know how far you need to go to get what you need.
  • Understand what the other side wants.  A successful negotiation should satisfy both sides.  Instead of trying to crush your competition, find out what he or she hopes to get, and try to work together toward a solution that works for you both.
  • Don’t concede unilaterally.  Usually one side or the other has to give something up.  If you do that, be sure to get a comparable concession from the other person.  Giving away something for nothing will be interpreted as a weakness to be exploited.
  • Don’t rush.  Time can be your friend if you are willing to wait for the right deal.  If the other side senses a deadline, they may be motivated to hold out until the last minute, or try to force you into accepting unreasonable terms.  Be patient and let the time pressure work against the other side.
  • Be ready to walk away.  This can take a certain amount of courage, but it’s necessary to avoid being backed into an agreement you don’t want.  If possible, keep an ally in reserve – someone with the power to approve or reject the deal.  This can give you an out if you need to turn down a deal, or motivate the other side to make the best offer possible.

Mark McCormack, author of “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, said:  “I find it helpful to try to figure out in advance where the other person would like to end up – at what point he will do the deal and still feel like he’s coming away with something.

“This is different from ‘how far will he go?’ A lot of times you can push someone to the wall, and you still reach an agreement, but his resentment will come back to haunt you in a million ways.”

And that’s an important point to remember.  People or companies that you make deals with on a regular, or even infrequent basis, have long memories.  If you don’t fight fair, or embarrass them, or make them feel like they have been disrespected or used, then forget about doing business with them again.

Consider the negotiating strategy used by two iconic business titans.  J. P. Morgan wanted to buy a large Minnesota ore tract from John D. Rockefeller.  So Rockefeller sent his son, John D. Jr., to see what Morgan had in mind.

Morgan opened, “Well, what’s your price?”

To which John D. Jr. replied, “Mr. Morgan, I think there must be some mistake.  I did not come here to sell; I understood you wanted to buy.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Negotiation is not just about winning, it’s about win-win.

Collaborate to increase your success rate

The late Nora Ephron was a famous writer of essays and screenplays.  Working on a movie, Ephron said, is a collaborative effort.

“When you deliver a script, it’s like delivering a great big beautiful plain pizza, the one with only cheese and tomatoes,” Ephron said.  “And then you give it to the director, and the director says, ‘I love this pizza.  I am willing to commit to this pizza.  But I really think this pizza should have mushrooms on it.’

“And you say, ‘Mushrooms!  Of course!  I meant to put mushrooms on the pizza!  Why didn’t I think of that?  Let’s put some on immediately.’”

Next, someone else comes along and suggests green peppers are just what your pizza needs, and you agree.  Then along comes someone else who suggests anchovies – and that one causes an argument.  And what you end up with is a pizza with everything.

Sometimes it’s great.  Sometimes it’s just the thing.  And sometimes you kick yourself for allowing someone to put green peppers on it, because they overpowered everything else and ruined the pie.

That, Ephron said, is how collaboration works.

Famous movie director Steven Spielberg has a similar take on collaboration:  “When I was a kid, there was no collaboration; it’s you with a camera bossing your friends around.  But as an adult, flimmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself.”

Collaboration is defined as individuals working together for a common purpose to achieve business benefit.  Collaboration is crucial for business.

For proof, look at Procter & Gamble in the early 2000s.  The company’s share price was down 50 percent.  According to Rick Lash in the Ivey Business Journal, productivity had plateaued and the company’s innovation success rate – the percentage of new products that reached financial objectives – was stuck around an “unsatisfactory 35 percent.”

The company’s new CEO at the time, A.G. Lafley, was determined to make P&G known as the company that “collaborates, inside and out, better than any company in the world.”  An analysis revealed that most of the company’s most profitable innovations came through collaboration, either internally across business units or externally with outside researchers.

So Lafley established 20 cross-functional “communities of practice” within the company and said that half of P&G’s products, ideas and technologies would come from external sources.  Result:  By 2008, P&G improved its research and development productivity by nearly 60 percent and more than doubled its innovation success rate while lowering the cost.

Collaboration is different from teamwork.  According to an article from AAIM, the global community of information professionals, collaboration at the conceptual level involves:


Awareness:   We become part of a working entity with shared purpose.

Motivation:  We drive to gain consensus in problem solving or development.

Self-synchronization:  We decide as individuals when things need to happen.

Participation:   We participate in collaboration and we expect others to participate.

Mediation:   We negotiate and we collaborate together and find a middle point.

Reciprocity:   We share and we expect sharing in return through reciprocity.

Reflection:   We think and we consider alternatives.

Engagement:   We proactively engage rather than wait and see.

“Collaboration relies on openness and knowledge sharing but also some level of focus and accountability on the part of the business organization,” AAIM says.

There is power in collaboration.  It is a great way for companies to work together to achieve success in unexpected ways.  In today’s fast-paced marketplace it is crucial to develop mutually beneficial partnerships to leverage creativity, experience and resources.  This allows companies and individuals to innovate much more quickly and create solutions to problems.

For example, LEGO, the toy company that produces a variety of interlocking plastic building blocks, signed on with NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to help familiarize children with real-world challenges in space.

Through the Space Act Agreement, LEGO and NASA entered into a three-year collaboration to promote technology, engineering and mathematics, and to work on practical applications.  In addition, astronauts use LEGO models and toys in the International Space Station to demonstrate scientific concepts and perform experiments.  NASA has also provided LEGO with ideas and educational materials for new toy collections.  Will there be some future aerospace engineers from the legions of LEGO fans as a result of this unlikely collaboration?


Mackay’s Moral:  If two heads are better than one, just imagine the collaborative power of two businesses.

Special Olympics change the world

First Lady Michelle Obama has had the pleasure of attending many spectacular events, but I would venture to guess that opening the 14th Special Olympics World Games at the end of July had to rank with the most inspirational.

It wasn’t because of the musical performances, fireworks, or even the flaming torch that was carried from Greece.  It was all about the athletes.

Almost 50 years after Eunice Kennedy Shriver decided to take her backyard competitions to an international level, the Games were the largest gathering of athletes in Los Angeles since the 1984 Summer Olympics.

specialolympicsThe first Special Olympics was held in 1968 in Chicago, with 1,000 athletes and about 100 people in the stands.  For the Los Angeles event, nearly 7,000 athletes representing 177 countries participated in tennis, soccer, swimming, equestrian events, weight-lifting, and even a triathlon, to name a few.  Competition is open to athletes eight years and older who have intellectual disabilities that result in limitations in cognitive functions or other skills.  To qualify for the world games, athletes must compete in sanctioned regional competitions.

Los Angeles World Games President and CEO Pat McClenahan, himself an Emmy-award winning sports producer, understood how the power of television could bring the group’s message and mission to a world audience.  He found a willing partner in ESPN.  “This was an unprecedented TV deal that was all about finding a broadcast partner who understood the goal – get the stories of these athletes in front of as many eyeballs as possible,” he said.  “And once people see the courage and determination and joy, they’re all inspired.”

I hope you had the opportunity to watch the nightly highlight reels.  Sports in their purest form.

ESPN’s Kate Jackson, head of production for daily shows, hired Dustin Plunkett, a four-time Special Olympics World Games athlete, as a reporter for the games.  His job description was later upgraded to analyst.

“If you look at ESPN in how we cover anything, it’s hiring former athletes or coaches – those who have a voice that’s closest to the sport they are involved with – and in this case it’s no different,” Jackson said.  “He inherently has a ton of knowledge that we don’t have about how this all works.  Dustin will make us better.”

Dustin is a Global Messenger for the Games and on the World Games 2015 board of directors.  His personal story is an inspiration in itself.  Born with an intellectual disability and a cleft palate that affected his speech, he came from an unstable home life and moved around from different homes and family members.  He competed in a number of sports and won awards.  And while many athletes will say the games made a big difference in their lives, Dustin can say that the Special Olympics literally saved his life.

Ten years ago he was able to take part in the Healthy Athletes program, which offers a seven-point check-up.  A volunteer dentist discovered that he had gum cancer and helped treat the disease.  “I never knew how fortunate and blessed that I would be when joining the Special Olympics,” Dustin said.  “Everyone thinks it’s just sports, but to me it is sports and so much more.  If it had been one month longer, I wouldn’t be alive today showing off my million-dollar smile.”

Many of the inspirational stories will not even be related to sports.  Kimberly Jasmine Guillen, who goes by “Kimpossible,” is a 16-year-old Global Messenger who has won 69 medals competing in bowling and track and field.  “I thought I was joining a team, but instead I realized that I joined a family,” she said.  “Every athlete is like a brother or sister to me.  Ever since I joined Special Olympics, I never want to give up on anything.”

McClenahan hopes this message will resonate:  “When people come in contact with our athletes or see our athletes perform, their perceptions change drastically.  The greatest thing we can do for those with intellectual disabilities is to change the hearts and minds of people without intellectual disabilities so that kids befriend them in school; employers realize their great value and hire them for jobs – those real life-changing things.”

Local Special Olympics organizations are always looking for help.  If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity that is both inspiring and rewarding, I highly recommend the Special Olympics.


Mackay’s Moral:  I can’t improve on the Special Olympics oath, “Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt.”  

Don’t let public speaking leave you tongue-tied

Regardless of the title on your business card, everyone is a sales person whether you want to admit it or not.  Why?  Because from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night, you are continually communicating, negotiating, persuading, influencing and selling ideas.

When you can get up on your feet and talk extemporaneously on a lot of subjects, this instills confidence, develops poise and breeds conviction.  You become more convincing in your meetings and your encounters.  And you become a better leader, manager and salesperson.

I never pass up an opportunity to promote Toastmasters International, which started in 1924 and today has 292,000 members in 122 countries and nearly 15,000 member clubs.  Toastmasters changed my life.

Another organization that can dramatically change your life is Dale Carnegie Training. I am also a proud graduate of Dale Carnegie.

You may not aspire to a public speaking career, but chances are, you will need to speak in front of a group at some point.  I have a very useful tool to make speaking easier.  It’s called “Harvey Mackay’s 35 To Stay Alive.”  It’s available free at www.35tostayalive.net.  I’ve chosen a few key tips from that tool.


The three most important keys on giving a good speech are:  1) Room size.  2) Room size.  3) Room size.  You want the excitement and chemistry of a standing room only, bumper-to-bumper crowd.  Extra space is a killer.  Also try to avoid rooms with high ceilings.

Have the first row set very close to the stage.  Too much space between the speaker and the first row can destroy connection with the audience.

Studies show people remember more and laugh more in brightness.  Turn the lights up full blast, unless you are showing overheads.

Practice … Practice … Practice.  Know your stuff.  Don’t ever give another speech without it being entertaining as well as educational.

Never, never, never end your program with a question and answer session.  You cannot control the agenda or the quality of the questions.  Start the Q & A five minutes before the end of your talk, then end with an awesome story.

Find out who the group’s last three to five speakers were and how they were received.  Ask why they were successful or why they failed.

Contact the Chamber of Commerce of any city you are to speak in.  They will give you loads of information to familiarize you with the local surroundings and help you personalize your remarks.

Never mispronounce a person’s name.  If you’re not sure, check with the sponsor.  Then double check.

Stick to your allotted time and don’t go over it.

If you don’t have a smashing “opener” and “closer,” go back to the drawing board.  Don’t step up to the microphone until you do.

And finally, number 35 on the list:  Debrief yourself within twenty-four hours of a speech, and take ten minutes to write down what you could do better the next time.  Try something new every time you speak and you’ll never become stale.

Above all, you must know your audience.  For example, Harold calls Al and asks him if he is coming to the Rotary meeting tomorrow night.

Al says, “Yes.”

Harold says, “I have a problem.  My guest speaker just cancelled.  Might you be able to fill in?”  Al says he will be happy to.

Harold says, “What might you talk about?”

Al says, “Oh I don’t know … I’ll probably talk about sex.”

The next day Al gives his speech and gets a standing ovation.  Al goes home and his wife asks him how his speech went.  Al says, “Very well.”

His wife asks, “What did you talk about?”

Now Al knows his wife doesn’t think he knows anything about sex, so Al says, “skiing.”

“Oh,” she says, “I see, skiing.”

The next day Al’s wife is at the supermarket and runs into Harold’s wife.  And Harold’s wife says, “I heard your husband gave a great speech at Rotary.  He must be terrific.”

And Al’s wife says, “I don’t understand.  He has only done it once and his hat blew off.”


Mackay’s Moral:  A public speaker should stand up to be seen, speak up to be heard and shut up to be appreciated.

Pursuit of perfection leads to search for excellence

Two men met on an airplane and began to talk.  They asked each other the usual questions, and as it happened, one of the men was married and the other man was not.  After a while the married man asked, “Why is it that you never married?”

The single man looked pensive then said, “Well, I think I just never met the right woman.”

“Oh, come on,” the married man replied, “surely you’ve met at least one girl during your lifetime that you wanted to marry.”

The single man once again thought about the man’s statement.  “Well, yes, that’s true,” he said.  “There was one girl once.  The perfect girl.  Actually, she was the only perfect girl I have ever met.  Everything she did was absolutely right on.  She really was the perfect girl for me.”

“Well, why on Earth didn’t you marry her?” the married man asked.

“She was looking for the perfect man,” the other replied.

Perfect is the ultimate praise.  But trying to attain perfection can cause stress, hinder efficiency and create unnecessary conflicts.  Perfectionists are frequently thought of as critical, overwhelmed, unable to see the big picture, stressed-out, anxious and rarely able to enjoy their accomplishments.

Perfect is also the ultimate impossibility.  Most of us are content to settle for almost perfect, or pretty darn close.  So it makes sense to focus instead on a goal of excellence:  meeting the highest standards agreed upon for oneself or by the group.

As the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

Excellence means continued personal and professional growth, job satisfaction and customer service, clear and reasonable expectations and a strong sense of accomplishment.


To truly keep on the path toward the pursuit of excellence, give these points some consideration:

  • Get real.  When you find yourself becoming frantic about a goal, stop and ask, “Is this problem really worth the level of frustration I’m experiencing?”  The likelihood that a result can never be good enough is counterproductive to progress.
  • Establish clear expectations.  If you know what’s expected of you, you can better track your progress and draw boundaries when needed, which will help you move forward with a project instead of obsessing on details that may not ultimately make a difference.
  • Identify your triggers.  Learn to recognize the factors that lead or contribute to your perfectionist thinking and behaviors – and avoid them.  If you can’t figure them out by yourself, ask your colleagues.  They will likely be able to tell you what you need to know.
  • Delegate.  Many perfectionists mistakenly believe that they – and only they – can complete the task at hand.  Allow other people to assist you, which will increase the odds that the group will more easily reach excellence.  Then be prepared to be amazed at results that you never imagined might be possible.
  • Know what’s important.  Ask yourself, “What’s most important about this project?”  Seek input from supervisors, colleagues and employees.  Setting your objectives and then identifying key points allows everyone to contribute to the success of the project.
  • Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t.  Do the best job possible within the limits of your resources.  Rather than wasting time, energy and money obsessing about how good it could be if you had more to work with, concentrate your efforts on how to get the best result within your limitations.

Longtime readers of this column will suspect I am contradicting one of my favorite aphorisms:  “Practice makes perfect – not true.  Perfect practice makes perfect.”  I still adhere to that philosophy.  If you are practicing to improve performance, whether for a presentation or golf swing, you want to improve your performance, not repeatedly practicing mistakes.

Management guru Stephen Covey put it this way:  “Real excellence does not come cheaply.  A certain price must be paid in terms of practice, patience, and persistence – natural ability notwithstanding.”

In other words, you have to be willing to pay the price, because excellence in any field is not automatic.

I know people who have bowled perfect games.  I have witnessed pitchers throwing perfect games.  Not to brag, but I recently got my first hole-in-one.  Those are rarities, believe me.  And that’s why we keep practicing, as perfectly as we can.


Mackay’s Moral:  Even if you can’t achieve perfection, you should never stop trying.