Why Negotiation Mastery Has Nothing To Do With Strategy

In military circles, in business and in many other arenas, strategists have some of the sharpest minds you will come across. The skills those folks have honed over their careers alone, do not transfer to our world of negotiation.

If you have been paying attention, you will notice that Camp Negotiation Systems coaches seldom talk about strategy, certainly not within the context of a negotiation.

Strategies get discussed a great deal in the business world — Startup X has its mobile strategy and Corporation Y has its tax-optimization strategy — but negotiation and strategy are mutually exclusive concepts.

To understand why this is, you must first understand the different realities a strategist and a negotiator face.

The Strategist’s Toolbox

As Jim wrote in his free ebook “Press On,” the strategist must define a complex problem, then design and carry out a response to that problem.

“The strategist must perceive the nature and features of a challenge accurately, and draw up and execute a plan that responds to it appropriately,” he wrote “He must also re-react and adjust the plan because the plan interacts with reality that itself is dynamic, not static.”

That dynamic reality forces the strategist to behave like a scientist: He identifies a problem, formulates a hypothesis, tests that hypothesis and reacts according to the feedback he receives.

Thus, any strategy is dependant upon that feedback and must change according to the shifting reality with which it interacts. (Or, as former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson famously put it, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”)

If strategies must be reactive or re-reactive, then strategizing as an activity is not something that can be mastered. The strategist can get better at what he does — he can become mentally sharper, become better at identifying problems, become better at designing those responses — but mastery is impossible.

Contrast strategy with negotiation, where a system can be mastered and then imposed onto an event.

The negotiator can learn every principle and every rule that governs human behavior, and she can arrange specific tools into a system that builds visions, compels decision-making and builds agreements.

Applications of Strategy and Negotiation

Strategy and negotiation are different disciplines that operate under different conditions, and each has its own time and place.

Negotiation is called for when agreements need to be built. Strategy is called for when a problem requires reactive decision-making.

This is admittedly an oversimplification, but the difference is best illustrated at the level of nations. When the competing interests of two nations collide, diplomats may be called in to negotiate on behalf of the nation’s interest.

But if one nation is trying to punch the other in the mouth, there is no room to try to build agreements. Should a conflict escalate or be violent by its very nature, a different set of conditions  is imposed, and military strategists are needed.

That said, there are situations in which the skills of a negotiator and the skills of a strategist can work together.

As Jim wrote in “Press On”:

“In a time of transition, the mindset of a strategist wedded to negotiation mastery, and both founded on a valid M&P, is the difference between solving the real problems that you face or wasting your time, energy, or money making plans that don’t solve the actual problem or challenge.”


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