The world’s best negotiator explains how to get more out of your work

ON the day that Stuart Diamond arrived in London, a Tube strike had paralysed the city, and the next day when I met him he was still shaking his head in wonder at the whole thing. “The mayor should never have let it get to this stage, so that Londoners are suffering because of two people being fired,” he said. “They need to sit down and brainstorm, they should have been doing that for months.”

Everybody has their views on the strikes, but Diamond’s are worth more than most people’s – he’s arguably the most experienced and best negotiator in the world. He’s the man who helped resolve the Hollywood writers’ strike, and has trained managers at Google, JP Morgan Chase, IBM, BASF, Microsoft – the list of corporate giants goes on.

He has consulted for the UN, once persuaded Bolivian farmers to give up cocaine-growing for bananas, and perhaps most impressively also says that he has taught parents to persuade their children to eat fruit and couples to get on better.

Diamond is a former New York Times journalist – who won a Pulitzer Prize for investigating the Challenger space shuttle crash – who studied at Harvard Law School and did an MBA at Wharton. Now he has written a book, Getting More, which aims to help you become a better negotiator at work, in your relationship, and even with your children.

So what’s the big idea? “Everything is a trade,” he says. “The theory is that you co-operate, but in order to find out the other sides’ needs with the ultimate end of meeting yours.” The principles are the same, whether we are talking about General Motors, your boss, your spouse or North Korea, and the first step is to find out what they want. To do that, you have to get talking. “You have to understand their perception, however crazy,” he says. “Only then can you lead them where you want them to go.”

value judgements

So how does this translate to the workplace, for example to negotiating for more pay? The first step is to get information. “What you want to know from the boss is: how does the company value me, and how can I make them value me more?” You need to find out what your boss’s goals are and if you can help him achieve them. That is the way to make him value you more. And that is the route to more influence, and money.

This is linked to honesty, another quality Diamond is keen on. If a negotiation is going nowhere, sometimes the best thing you can do is to say: “This is not working”. That will allow you to reset the discussion, and keep talking. Roadblocks where everybody packs up and goes home are no good at all. Unless you keep talking, you’ll never get anywhere. He explains that when he started working on the Hollywood writers’ strike he persuaded the studio boss to physically walk over to the picket line and start talking to people. Two days later, the strike was over.

This brings us to Diamond’s second big idea: that “the world is not rational” and that to negotiate successfully you have to understand how emotional people are. You are far more likely to get results if you can make the other side feel better about themselves. Even something as basic as flattery can work. “If somebody says to me: ‘You are flattering me!’ I say: ‘Yes!’,” he chuckles. Don’t underestimate the power of making people feel better. Get people to like you, and they will help you. It’s human nature. Whether you are trying to persuade somebody to hire you, give you more money, or give you a corner office, they are more likely to do so if you get on.

There are lots of ways of doing this. Diamond tells the story of a senior person in a computing firm who found out that a potential client’s daughter was having computer problems, so he spent a morning helping her. They got the contract. Another firm was unable to give somebody a raise, but helped to get the foundations of his new home built. He stayed. Sometimes people ask for a raise when they are starting a family, but are sometimes equally happy with flexible working. Everything is a trade.

It all sounds great in theory, but how much of this can actually be learned? Are good negotiators made or born? Here, Diamond insists that you can learn the skills, but that you have to use them in an “authentic” way. People know when you are faking, or trying to be somebody you are not and they will trust you less if they see that. “You have to be honest. Credibility comes from being real.”

Are you listening, Boris and Bob? Getting More by Stuart Diamond is out now, £14.99 from Penguin