Negotiation Mastery Blog

Make Sure You Win Your Negotiation

So, you have a negotiation coming up, how do you make sure you win it?

Well, I’ll start with another question and answering that question will show you how not to go about it. This question is how much is a million pounds worth? Fairly straightforward question.

In 1994, the English dance band, the KLF, burnt a million pounds then tried to sell the ashes as a work of art. How much do you think they get for them?

Now, they made some fabulous music and earnt a lot of money in the process. But they were a fairly anti-establishment band and so they decided to use this money to support struggling artists. But then they changed their minds when they realised that struggling artists are meant to struggle, that’s the whole point. So, in 1994, they chose to burn the money instead. In a boathouse on an island off Scotland, they fed a million pounds in £50 notes into a fire. (I know, you’re probably crying right now).

They kept the ashes and later, maybe feeling a little silly about what they had done, took them around various art galleries in London and asked if they could sell them as a work of art.
Each gallery refused. How much is a million pounds worth? This particular million pounds, it turned out, was worth nothing.

How comes?

Well, the galleries refused for this reason: the KLF asked was it a work of art. In doing so, they completely undermined the credibility of their case. Art does not ask for permission to exist.
If, instead, they had declared it a work of art, its status would not have been disputed and they would have got their money.

Framing is the name of the game
In negotiation, the outcome is dependent on the frame of the negotiation. Set the frame and you also set how the negotiation goes.

The KLF asked the galleries what the deal was about – was it about a work of art or was it about a pile of ashes? The galleries chose the latter. The KLF, quite simply, should have set the frame themselves and declared it art.

Let’s take another example. Modigliani was an artist who died in 1920. In 2018, this painting of his, sold for $150m. He never earnt anything like this, of course. To survive, and to pay for his drug addiction, he would often swap works of his art for a meal in a restaurant. He died in poverty at the age of 35 from tubercular meningitis.
Sadly, he was not very good at setting the frame of the negotiation. Sotheby’s in New York were much better.

Now, let’s contrast that with Marcel Duchamp who famously signed a toilet and declared it a work of art. In doing so, he set the framework for its valuation. Prior to this, it was simply a toilet, worth the same as any other you could buy from a discount bathroom store. Afterwards, it became an icon. It was voted in 2004 the most influential work of art of all time and therefore worth millions.

What is your negotiation about?
So, what is your negotiation ‘about’? Well, you can define what it’s about and if you do you’re going to make sure you get a good result. The other person may say it’s just a toilet, you can say its the work of a genius. Is it about the other side’s distribution outlets or your uniqueness of product? Their contacts or your ideas? Is it about profit or about market share? About short-term gain or long-term gain? Is it about risk? Is it about publicity? Is it about pride? Revenge? What is it about?

Now, they will probably lead with the frame that suits them, but you don’t have to buy into that. You can lead with the frame that suits you.

Set the frame of the game and you also set how the negotiation goes.