Archive for July 21, 2007

The Vital Truth Every Negotiator Must Deal With

July 21, 2007

You’ve been preparing this deal for weeks. And now, you step into the client’s office, facing this big, fierce, burly character. He flips through the documents, swiftly lifts up his head and stares at you with his piercing eyes.

“I will never accept the terms!”

Mr Fiery Temper cuts through the already tense atmosphere with his booming voice. You can easily tell he is not very pleased.

There is an awkward and uneasy silence. You wreck your brains for what to say next.

In this very crucial moment of the need to reply, your boss’s voice appears in the background.. “Remember, we need this business deal. Must close it. Our company’s survival depends on you..”

Oh, Great! How relieving to be reminded of this? And what a convenient time too.

You have just had reality of a negotiator hit you hard in the face (or the back of the brain). Just when you need a smart, witty reply, the most unnecessary of warning comes forth… with that “our lives is in your hands” thing. A mantra that creeps up on you and goes on, and on, and on…

My friends, this reality comes attached to you as a negotiator. You don’t have to find it, it just is there. It is the vital truth of negotiation and you have to deal with it, sooner or later. It is The Negotiator’s Burden.

Every negotiator carry a burden, unique to his position and to his appointment as the organization’s official negotiator, spokesperson and representative. They had to face the ultimate truth that their words can either elevate their organization or bring it down.

If the burden is mismanaged, it becomes an inner demon that threatens to put the negotiator into constant fear and intimidation. This, the other party can detect it and use to their advantage to bring to your downfall.


Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang carried this burden when she had to invite Hong Chengchou (Fan Hao Ming in ficitionalized drama serial) to submit to the Qing Empire. The hopes of the expansion and founding of the whole new nation depended on her persuasive skills.

She was later faced with an even tighter situation as she attempted to balance the might and forces of Duoergun, the Regent and Haoge, the late Emperor’s eldest son. Each ambitious man had harbors intention to lay claim to the empty throne. One false move in her actions and words, and her own life and that of her son’s will crumble together with the dismantling of the whole nation.

In both and other challenges, she emerged unscathed, with her position further solidified.


Li Hong Zhang, a key minister of the late Qing Dynasty, carried this burden in 1901 when he had to negotiate with the eight foreign powers in the vastly unequal Xinchou Treaty after the failure of the Boxer Rebellion. This accelerated the downfall of the already weakened Qing Empire with its people increasingly convinced of the incompetency of its government.

Till now, China still sees him as the example of nation’s embarrassment, widely regarded as a traitor of the Chinese people for the disadvantaged negotiated outcome.


Equally worth highlighting was the events towards the Cold War that began from the 1940s to the 1990s. The negotiation lasted through United States Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and then to Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

The Cold War also saw the dissolution of the USSR, fall of Berlin Wall and other reforms that took place between the super powers. The massive pressures and burdens upon the negotiators-Presidents, knowing the outcome could affect their nations, could be beyond our contemplation.


Closer to home is the example at the Surrender of Singapore on 15 February, 1942. General Arthur Percival of the British and General Tomoyuki Yamashita of Japan carried burdens of different sorts.

Imagine the heaviness of heart as General Percival signed the surrender treaty unconditionally, knowing the eternal shame of defeat and humiliation of the Queen’s colony awaited him when he returned home. He had just sealed Singapore’s fate and handed over the largest British-led surrender in history, totaling 130,000 in overall forces.

General Yamashita, earned the nickname “The Tiger of Malaya” for his aggressive conquering of the British colonies. At the negotiation table, he fervently insisted on the unconditional surrender of Singapore. The strong thumbing of fist with tough exterior looks certainly aided and hasten Percival to give in to his demands.

Had there been any changes in that negotiation, Singapore as we know it, would have been very different.


By a twist of fate, General Yamashita had to surrender to Generals Percival and Jonathan Wainwright in Philippines three years later in 1945 when Japan announced its surrender.

Negotiations by lawyer Harry Clarke and his defense team, to have Yamashita’s death sentence reversed, did not go through this time round despite strong appeal to President Truman. Gen Yamashita was thus hanged in 1946. Meanwhile Gen Percival was active in negotiating compensation for former captives till end of his life in 1966.


Every single one of these negotiators had to manage their realizations of the burdens placed on them. Certain burdens come in the form of company survival or national pride while others are at the expense of livelihood and lives. Some, as history can tell, managed it better than the others.

The fact of the matter remains that a negotiator truly carry a burden that no other in his organization can fully comprehend. And since he is the negotiator, it is a load no one else can take over or bear for him.

He has to thus devote to build an even stronger character that can withstand these burdens. And manage the inner demons that constantly remind him that failure is not an option. For better or for worse, the character must be there. A negotiator with less than steady stealth and mental dexterity will be at a very disadvantaged position at the negotiation table.

What remains is for you to truly be realistic with the fact of it and be diligent at building up your character, then to boldly face the negotiator’s burden before you can excel in deals closing and negotiation.