It’s always a source of pride and amazement for me how applicable the lessons I learned in the Marine Corps are to so many aspects of civilian life. Indeed, many of the eleven Marine Corps leadership principles lend themselves perfectly to preparing for and engaging in a negotiation, another one of my favorite subjects. Before combat, Marines diligently prepare and train. The same type of persistent preparation is needed for a successful negotiation. Here are a few leadership principles from my experience serving as a U.S. Marine that inform my approach to every negotiation.
- Know yourself and seek self-improvement: When entering into a negotiation, be confident in your authority, ability, and strengths. You (should) have prepared long and hard for this moment; don’t be intimated by your opponent’s prestige, title, or other accomplishments. That said, it’s critical to be mindful of how you typically react in uncomfortable or unpleasant situations or to disagreeable comments, so if such a situation arises (and it will), you won’t lose your cool. Anticipate your opponent’s viewpoints, including those that might make your blood boil, and be prepared with reasonable alternatives that can help push the negotiation forward (rather than sitting there steaming).
- Be technically and tactically proficient: Marines live on a regimented schedule. This type of constant repetition allows them to be ready at any given moment for combat. A skilled negotiator will thoughtfully prepare and practice leading up to the negotiation. Earn your seat at the table by always learning and improving. Everyone (myself included) needs practice; once you think you know it all, you’re done.
- Set the example: Be prompt for the meeting. Better yet, arrive early to give yourself time adjust to the environment and review any documents before you begin. During the negotiation, actively listen to the other person. Often, when it’s our turn to listen, we are instead passing judgment, preparing our response, or even daydreaming, none of which will help you craft a purposeful response when it is your turn to speak. Set the tone for a respectful negotiation by paraphrasing the other side’s viewpoint back to them, which helps you demonstrate empathy, understanding, and respect. Without these, your negotiation will go nowhere.
- Keep your Marines informed: It’s essential that you create a transparent bond between you and your client or team with regard to the negotiation process. Transparency builds trust, so be honest with your client and team members. If you’re a real estate broker whose client has asked for an update, don’t dance around the fact that the seller won’t budge from the asking price – when your client finds out the truth (and she will), the trust between you will have taken a major hit.
- Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions: Negotiators often focus their position too narrowly. Show that you have done your research and are conscious of your opponent’s interests. Following the negotiation, own up to issues you could have handled better, and use that to inform your next negotiation.
The U.S. Marine Corps is all about mission, discipline and dedication. Stay focused and work hard to maximize your chances of success.