You say you got almost everything you wanted out of your last negotiation? Good for you.

Chances are you still did it wrong.

Too many negotiators operate under the assumption that somebody has to get screwed. If you’re winning, someone has to lose, right?

Wrong.

Sure, it’s important to get at least some of what you want in any negotiation. If that doesn’t happen, what’s the point?

The truth, though, is that negotiation is as much about relationships as it is about getting what you want.

“The principle of negotiation should be this: In order to get what you want, help the other person get what they want,” says negotiating expert Ron Shapiro. “It doesn’t mean you can’t be a winner. What it means is this: When you try to resolve something with someone else, you want to maximize your return and make sure they get enough so that they’re satisfied and the two of you have a relationship when you’re done.”

What a perfect statement for the age of social business: Even something as seemingly self-centered as negotiation is, at its core, about serving others.

Shapiro should know. He is an attorney and a sports agent who has represented stars like Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, and Kirby Puckett, and he’s a co-founder and chair of Shapiro Negotiations. He is also the best-selling author of the negotiating bible The Power of Nice: How to Negotiate So Everyone Wins — Especially You, and he recently brought his message to Maryland CPAs as part of an exclusive MACPA program in Baltimore.

That message included many of the nuts and bolts of effective negotiation — the “3 Ps” (prepare, probe, propose), the key elements of a negotiator’s “preparation checklist,” the vital role that communication plays in the negotiating process.

How we negotiate, though, is way less important than why we negotiate. According to Shapiro, the answer to that question — “Why should we negotiate?” — is baked into the DNA of every CPA.

“I worked with 60 wonderful CPAs (recently),” Shapiro told me, “and they told me they were going to be better at managing their teams as a result of what they’ve learned, because managing a team is a negotiation. They are going to be better at dealing with client disputes over fees, because that is a negotiation. They are going to be better at dealing with the IRS and government people, because that is a negotiation. Although CPAs and accountants live in a fairly technical world, they also live in a world full of human beings, and the power of nice and perfecting your pitch are directed at empowering them with a systematic approach that ultimately enables them, in a non-aggressive fashion, to resolve differences, lead people, and negotiate results, which brings satisfaction to CPAs and helps them build a relationship with the people on the other side.”

And while many in the profession still cling passionately to their increasingly irrelevant technical prowess, skills that are centered on human relations — skills like negotiation — are the key competencies that everyone will need to master going forward.

“There’s no question,” Shapiro said. “Think how complex the profession of accounting is today. If we’re going to succeed in a highly competitive and constantly changing world … these important human-relations skills are still going to be the keys to connecting with and building thriving practices.”

I had an opportunity to talk with Shapiro at length about the power and importance of negotiation. Listen to our conversation in its entirety.

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