Negotiations: Don’t Let Your Ego Take Over!

Nicolas Caron

Published : 20 April 2016
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I’m pretty sure that you’ve already had an interview with a buyer looking down on you with condescension, arrogance and the self-satisfied aplomb of those who consider themselves above the fray. Quite annoying, isn’t?

But what if this negotiation attitude was actually good news for you? As soon as the ego starts taking up too much space in our minds, misjudgments and positions of weakness lurk around the corner.

While buyers are prone to fall into this trap, keep in mind that sellers are even more liable to be taken in.

Here are some considerations on the role played by excessive pride in business relationships.


The five pitfalls of the ego


The Boomerang effect 

Humans are shaped in such a way that they cannot stand feelings of inferiority. For many, meeting someone who surpasses them is evidence of their own inferiority. Obviously, we could content ourselves with modelling that person to try and improve ourselves. But most of the time it tends to stir up jealousy. And when negotiators feel inferior to their adversary, aggressiveness is just one step ahead.



When you are very strong and self-assured, you feel more comfortable than your adversary. But who is most at risk in a negotiation? The person who is more comfortable and self-assured, or the one who clearly is not? The best negotiators know that the person who should feel perfectly at ease is the one sitting in front of them. If that person wants to “act smart” … well, good for them! A Chinese proverb sums it up quite well: “You must pretend to be a pig to kill the Tiger.”


Missing the point

The goal is not to be right at all costs. The goal is to get your contact to sign the deal in good conditions. By striving to be right all the time you squander energy on secondary points while taking the risk to make the other feel uncomfortable.



A very strong ego also increases the stress resulting from opinions expressed against us. A lot of disruptive tactics feed on the importance we attach to criticism and our pride dictating that we should take offense. Of course, criticism is a good thing when it comes from people trying to help us improve. However, when dealing with manipulative negotiators, the impact of their criticism should only match the esteem you have for them. No more, no less.


Going all the way

It is good to have a lower limit in mind before commencing negotiations but having a ceiling is also a wise idea.

Feeling in a strong position can easily get negotiators intoxicated and make them want to top their initial goal. Some people go too far down that road and set the stage for future defeats with their immediate demands.

  • The buyer’s defeat, because (a) they won’t get the expected service, or (b) they will need to find a new supplier since they can no longer accept the conditions that were taken away from them.
  • The seller’s defeat, for they will then get ousted at the first occasion..

Generally speaking and whatever the type of negotiation, we should keep in mind that we have a long life to live in a very small world!




Three tips to overcome the pitfalls of the ego

1. Don’t try to be perfect

I do not wish you nor anyone to be perfect or try to appear so. Perfect people are boring and are unknowingly digging their own grave.

Imagine dealing with Mr. Perfect, his ultra-bright smile, impeccable suit and know-it-all attitude. Don’t you think you’d want to knock him off cloud nine at some point?

So, first piece of advice in difficult negotiations: Being perfect doesn’t work in you favor.

In his book “Start with No”, Jim Camp called that “the secret of Being Not Okay”. As an example, he describes  Detective Columbo’s technique of always appearing much less knowledgeable than he actually is in order to make his adversaries feel superior and thus reveal crucial information.

Here is what Jim Camp likes to remind us of:

In fact, showing off and accepting the dogfight is a response to the need for recognition forcing us to prove our worth to those around us. When our value is acknowledged, we feel comfortable. On the contrary, when it’s called into doubt, we don’t feel as good.  If we follow this line of reasoning, it is sad but realistic to say that we feel more comfortable when our confidence is directed against those who don’t measure up with us — at least from our point of view.

Robert Green in his book ‘POWER’ also describes this phenomenon as follows: When we meet people who are better than us, they show us that we are actually mediocre, or at least not as bright as we thought. Shaking up our self-image in this way cannot go without arousing some nasty feelings.

Conclusion: It’s not such a bad thing if your opponents feel slightly superior when negotiating. First, they won’t resent you for outdoing them and secondly, their level of vigilance will drop so that you can be the one actually in control.

It takes great abilities to hide one’s abilities –

La Rochefoucauld


2. Distinguish between the essential and the trivial

Robert Green, already mentioned above for his book POWER relates the following anecdote about Michelangelo.

 Weeks later, as Michelangelo was putting the final touches on the statue, Soderini entered the studio. Fancying himself a bit of a connoisseur, he studied the huge work, and told Michelangelo that while he thought it was magnificent, the nose, he judged, was too big. Michelangelo realized that Soderini was standing in a place right under the giant figure and did not have the proper perspective. Without a word, he gestured for Soderini to follow him up the scaffolding. Reaching the nose, he picked up his chisel, as well as a bit of marble dust that lay on the planks. With Soderini just a few feet below him on the scaffolding, Michelangelo started to tap lightly with the chisel, letting the bits of dust he had gathered in his hand fall little by little. He actually did nothing to change the nose, but gave every appearance of working on it. After a few minutes of this charade he stood aside: “Look at it now.” “I like it better,” replied Soderini, “you’ve made it come alive.”

Michelangelo knew that changing the shape of the nose might ruin his work. Unfortunately for him, Soderini highly valued his own judgment as a parton of the arts. Contradicting and offending him wouldn’t get Michelangelo very far and could potentially jeopardize his future orders.  The artist therefore found a way to preserve the perfection of the statue by making Soderini believe that he had modified the nose.

Likewise, salespeople sometimes hamper negotiations by sitting firm on “positions” or “principles” and may even let buyers get trapped in their own obsessions.

It is important to put thing into perspective in order to distinguish between real issues and secondary matters.

Buyers who are the toughest when discussing the major checkpoints of the contract are often quite flexible regarding  subsidiary aspects. Remember that the challenge for sellers is to sign a profitable contract. If they must play along to get there and allow the buyer to feel brilliant inside, so be it. It’s part of the job.

3. Don’t understand everything

After Jim Camp and Robert Green, we’ll have Herb Cohen remind us that it is not necessary to understand everything. (Herb Cohen is as funny as he is talented at selling. His first book really made me laugh all the while bringing home key messages)

Here’s what he tells us about the ego:

Not to understand everything can be very useful in negotiations. When confronted with a “specialist”, don’t panic. Remember that if they didn’t need you or your products, they wouldn’t be meeting with you. Practice saying from time to time: “I don’t understand.“; You’ve lost me there” or “Can you translate this in layman’s terms?“.  A touch of boldness and innocence mixed with polite insistence and couple of smart questions will go a long way towards taming a so-called expert.

There are probably many other tips, but three sounds like a good number.

Have a great sales day!

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