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Good negotiating skills are key to business success

Good negotiating skills are key to business success

A well-known legal and business education expert sums up the current Amcu platinum strike in one word: insanity.

“If you are looking at the current wage strike in the platinum industry; that is a lose-lose situation all the way. Everybody is losing, both employers and employees. This is a classic situation of negotiation gone wrong,” says Barney Jordaan, a past professor of law who these days specialises in teaching negotiation skills and advising corporates on negotiation strategy.


“To put it simply, the point of negotiating is to persuade the other party to satisfy your interests to the greatest degree possible. This is only possible if you are prepared to work hard at understanding and satisfying theirs, to the extent that you are able.”

He adds, “Clearly, this has failed in the case of the platinum strike.The situation has become antagonistic to the extent that it has become negative all round, something we often see in the way managers and business people negotiate. As their positions harden and the fear of loss sets in, they start behaving in more and more irrational and risky ways.” In fact, research indicates that only about 4% of managers are able to reach win-win deals in commercial negotiations.

Jordaan is course convenor of an executive education short course called Maximising Value in Negotiation at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (GSB). The course not only covers negotiation strategy and behaviour to maximise value, but also actively tries to change the way participants approach the problem, people and process dimensions of negotiation. To this end, participants are given neuro-psychological insight into how the human brain behaves when negotiating.

“The problem is that we tend to choose a fight or flight response when facing potentially difficult conversations, such as negotiation, instead of choosing a ‘flow’ or rational response. Instead of thinking how we can put together a deal that is best for both parties under present circumstances, we end up making a deal that is no good for anyone. We either lose value, or the relationship, or both.” There are many examples of how bad negotiations have cost a company, says Jordaan: “You can’t run a business without negotiation. Most people don’t realise they are negotiating or that they have been presented with a negotiation opportunity. Learning how to make the most of negotiating opportunities is vital for a successful business.”

Jordaan says part of the secret to negotiating is knowing how the human brain works and how human beings behave, especially in a negotiating context. To this end, a neuro specialist will explain brain anatomy and functioning to participants and its role in dictating our behaviour in a negotiation.

Jordaan says, “Negotiating effectively is a skill that can be learnt.” He adds that many business managers and executives don’t realise that basic negotiating skills underlie every aspect of business – from buying products and services, to dealing with staff issues and customer relations, to sales and acquisitions.

As a lawyer and mediator he has many years of experience in private practice as well, gaining practical experience in workplace negotiation, business restructuring, resolving disputes within and between businesses, mergers and acquisitions as well as labour disputes. He teaches his negotiation course in both South Africa and at two European business schools. 

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