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Is negotiating a deal an end in itself, or is it a means to something else? The answer to that depends a bit on what kind of negotiation you find yourself in.

If you are negotiating a deal where as soon as you shake hands, sign a piece of paper, or click to confirm, you are truly "done," then perhaps means and ends are the same. In such cases it could be said that implementation doesn't really matter, and the only thing to care about is whether the deal looks good on paper.

For pretty much anyone else who finds himself in a negotiation where the purpose of the deal is to then


something -- create some kind of economic value, resolve a dispute, or work together to accomplish a goal -- you have to worry about whether what looks good on paper can actually be implemented. And when implementation matters, you have to negotiate differently.

There is a lot of good advice out there about how to do deals. My colleagues and I have spent 25-plus years doing the research behind it, developing it and applying it, first at the Harvard Negotiation Project; then in complex, international public conflicts including constitutional negotiations in South Africa, peacemaking in Central America and back-channel diplomacy in the Middle East. Finally, we applied it to the business world, helping clients improve management of complex negotiations and relationships with key customers, suppliers and business partners.

Yet my partner and co-author Mark Gordon and I kept finding that our best advice about getting deals done was just not enough when implementation mattered. We started to feel that there was just no point to some deals, even if they looked good at closing,

if the way they had been negotiated made it harder for the parties to work together during implementation

. In

The Point of the Deal: How to Negotiate When Yes Is Not Enough

, we describe key differences between a "deal maker" mindset (even one trying to be "win-win") that focuses on getting the deal closed, and a more "implementation minded" approach that tries to make sure there's really a point to doing the deal.

We found that a lot of "common wisdom" serves negotiators rather badly because it prioritizes doing what you need to close the deal, rather than doing what you need to accomplish your real purpose:

  • Avoid disclosing information when you don't have to.
  • Keep them off balance.
  • Separate the negotiators from the implementers.
  • Limit the number of people in the loop.
  • If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.
  • Lock them in early and often.
  • Create strong sanctions to ensure they will perform.

In our view, advice that focuses on "how to do the deal" or when to walk away just focuses on the wrong thing.


The Point of the Deal

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, Mark and I take a look not only at what individual negotiators should do at the table if they care about implementation, but also at the role of the negotiator's manager and some ways companies can better organize for successful negotiation. We look at broad range of deal types and examples drawn from companies like


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Procter & Gamble

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and others. We apply these concepts to everything from "bread and butter" customer-supplier negotiations, to "bet-the-company" deals in outsourcing, strategic alliances, and



What we have found is that negotiating as if implementation matters is quite different from just "doing deals" for the sake of reaching agreements. It means doing some things that go against common wisdom, such as:

  • Recognizing that the real purpose of the negotiation is not to sign a deal, but to accomplish something.
  • Making sure stakeholders (yours and theirs) are aligned so that implementation can proceed smoothly.
  • Recognizing that the way you deal with each other during the negotiation will impact how you work together during implementation.
  • Confronting the hard issues instead of repressing or minimizing them to get the deal signed.
  • Making sure your counterparts understand what they are agreeing to, and can actually deliver, rather than treating any ambiguity or potential difficulty in performing as "their problem."
  • Paying attention to the transition from the negotiating table to execution.

Doing these things is hard. It requires some different skills, and it may cost you some deals that you might have closed if you had disregarded this advice. But if you have something worth negotiating, and if implementation matters, then doing deals any other way is just plain irresponsible and foolish.