This Simple Technique Will Make You a Much More Successful Negotiator

Baseball coaches often tell young players to stop trying so hard, stop thinking so much. Just go out there and have fun.

It’s good advice, because often we’re only able to perform our best when we give our minds a break. And that applies just as much to business deals as it does to throwing curveballs.

The truth is, sometimes the smartest thing to focus on during a negotiation is giving yourself time to step away.

In biotech, one of the most contentious portions of a business development partnership is what’s known as reversion rights. Essentially, this means a company licenses a drug to a partner. If the partner decides they’re no longer interested in the developing the drug, the rights revert back to the company.

You may think this would simply entail the partner giving the drug back to the company that originally licensed it. But there are plenty of circumstances surrounding the deal that complicate the process like data that’s been generated on the drug, royalty rights, and other costs.

At my former company, our solution in one case was to offer employment to the people who had worked on our Partner’s program. They would know the program well. If they joined us, they could figure out a path forward and negotiate access to the data in a way that we by ourselves would not be able to. It ended up working out well for everyone.

That breakthrough idea didn’t come while we were negotiating. It came when we weren’t even working on the deal.

Here’s why it works:

Business deals are exhausting, but paradoxically, that’s what allows the best breakthroughs to happen.

A complex deal can envelope your life. Over the course of long negotiations, you can get exhausted–both mentally and physically.

The constant analysis, in-person negotiations, and collaboration with your team can take their toll on you. It’s demanding to tackle the multiple dimensions for weeks or months at a time.

You can only take so much. At some point, you have to step away.

Your conscious mind needs a break. So you distance yourself from the deal in order to come back refreshed and alert. You veg out.

And oddly enough, that’s when most of your great ideas involving the deal will come. They don’t pop into your head when you’re sitting across the table from your opposite at another company. The solutions come when you’re so tired that you aren’t able to focus on the situation. Maybe you’re watching your kid’s Little League game or zoning out with a season of your favorite show.

Even though you aren’t focusing on the negotiation, your brain is still working in the background, tossing ideas around and operating in a more fluid state.

Of course, this process doesn’t just happen. There’s a catch.

You have to internalize the whole deal and be able to model it in your head before this can occur.

Here’s the thing, you can’t just skip straight to the “veg out” portion of the equation.

You can only come up with ideas this way if you’ve internalized all the aspects of the deal. It only works if you’ve prepared, talked with other side, and learned the details of the deal back to front. It’s an intense process that requires mental modeling, but you can’t skip it and hope to have a breakthrough while cooking dinner one night.

In fact, the best ideas probably won’t come to you until the middle of the deal. By that point, you’ve actually internalized all the aspects because you’ve immersed yourself in the details of the negotiation.

Just know, this isn’t some sort of “hack” for your brain. It only works when if you’ve put in the required effort beforehand.

The process is different for everyone, so you have to find what works well for you.

Charles Darwin didn’t come up with his theory of evolution during the time he spent exploring the Galapagos. Rather, it was after his return to England and during the course of long walks that he was able to make the necessary connections in his mind.

Many people also find that walking is a good way to tease out the insights and solutions they haven’t been able to grasp while sitting at the negotiating table. Some people find running does the trick.

The point is, you have to find what works for you. The only stipulation is that you have to be doing something that ostensibly takes your mind off work. If you’ve internalized the deal, your brain will be able to keep working. With this knowledge base (and a little luck), you’ll find the solution you’re looking for.

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Joan Guzman