When Negotiating, Take Advice From the Other Side But Do Not Offer Them Comments

When Negotiating, Take Advice From the Other Side But Do Not Offer Them Comments

When we are negotiating, those who can offer the best evaluation of how we are doing may well be the people on the other side of the table, that is, those with whom we are negotiating. Rarely will they offer us tips on how we could do better. But if they do provide advice, we would do well to listen carefully.

Unfortunately, that is not the usual instinct. When someone provides a tip about what you should do differently, the automatic response is: how dare they judge me. Writing in the Financial Times, the accomplished public speaker Lucy Kellaway describes how she was outraged at some advice she got. Even though:

“On reflection, this man’s feedback was close to perfection. It was direct but not rude. It was clear about what was wrong — which was something fixable. It came from a disinterested source and was delivered by email — so saved my blushes.”

Fortunately, she took the advice, and she did better thanks to it.


Lucy Kellaway

If someone with whom you have been negotiating provides unsolicited comments on something you could have done differently, listen to them – do not dismiss out of hand what they had to say. Maybe they are wrong, but maybe they are right. Think about it; give a try to what they suggest.

But do not offer advice yourself. Because while we can all benefit from feedback, we rarely appreciate suggestions that we are given. Kellaway gives an example of how inappropriate it is to offer entirely accurate advice. She describes a business executive who at the end of a dinner, offers feedback to those sitting next to him on the quality of the conversation they just had. Even though his comments are in many ways just what feedback should be – specific, with suggestions on how to improve – they are not likely to be well received. They are, well, rude.

Kellaway’s advice is to take advice. Very true. But she errs by implying that you should also offer feedback. It is not your job to help the other person do better. In fact, it is not your place to do so. Much as you may be eager to assist your negotiating partner, offering unsolicited advice is a bad idea. Indeed, even if the other person asks for feedback, the best approach is to be cautious: at most, offer tentative comments (“you might want to think about X,” not “you should do X”).