Karma and Negotiation - Good or Bad!

Preparation compensates for a lack of talent!

Karma in Negotiations can be good or bad!

At the end of a failed negotiation too many people blame bad karma for the result. Often they failed because they got to the negotiation table too quickly. The rush was to negotiate, where it should be to prepare.

Agility only happens when you are prepared for possibilities. (Talking of possibilities I just opened the fridge and saw an opened packet of Tim Tams. Even though this blog is about Karma, I think we can apply this thinking to the current biscuit war, between Arnotts and Coles.)

I suggest, results from great negotiation successes or good karma can be attributed to well-structured and planned negotiations. When preparing for large deals in the B2B world, we work through these three questions:

1. What are you asking the other side to do?     Clarity

2. What risks are you asking them to take?       Emotion

3. Who is the decision maker?                             Action



Clarity is required for the negotiation. Why are you negotiating? This is a better question, but is often followed by the statement: we must win. To be clear, and for a great result, all sides must understand what you are trying to achieve at the negotiation table.

This is where value becomes critical. The clearer you are in what you want to achieve and the more clearly you understand want the other parties are seeking to achieve, then the easier it becomes to leverage value. Understanding your interests and identifying shared interests’ means that you can jointly create value. Getting back to Karma, you can’t do this at the negotiating table. It requires planning on your side and numerous discovery meetings with the other parties.



Is your negotiation a simple spread sheet analysis or more deeply rooted emotions? In Australia, we are seeing a lot of emotion at the moment where Arnott’s Biscuits and Coles Supermarkets have gone to war over the cherished and much loved biscuit. An Australian icon and still manufactured in Australia.

There is enough media coverage without me commenting on the story except to say this. Arnott’s proposed a price increase to Coles, who said, “No”.  Someone at Coles didn’t ask the question from an emotional perspective, it was based on an internal KPI that didn’t agree with an increase. Arnott’s obviously decided when negotiations broke down, to restrict supply to Coles.

Someone on both sides during this negotiation would feel that karma was not helping them succeed. I suggest strongly that either the value pitch from Arnott’s was not effective or Cole’s mistakenly believed that the iconic Tim Tam could be easily replaced. Either way, Karma really had a big bite of someone’s backside.



When working with teams on large negotiations we spend the most time discussing key stakeholders from the different parties that will be represented at the table. Then selecting amongst that group as to who is really the decision maker.

People who will recommend your organisation to the CEO as the chosen supplier for their organisation, or people who can influence key stakeholders, are not decision makers and you should not make concessions with them. 

You can only uncover additional value, make useful trades, and put together a package that exceeds the other party's expectations when you are dealing with a decision maker.

By preparing to negotiate with the decision makers (and not the influencers or recommenders) you can create great value and can trade possibilities for a better outcome. There are a lot of good ideas in the Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (Newer Version, Random House, 2012), by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton. 

Their advice about separating the people from the problem is still critical today. I suggest going one step further; separate all the people from the decision makers and only negotiate with the decision makers. The influencers and recommenders are key to get you to the table, decision makers are key to get a result and fast!

I have learnt over the past 25 years of live negotiations around the world that stuff happens when you are dealing with a decision maker. Negotiations that involve decision makers from all parties have energy, happen quicker and with a much better result for everyone. The focus is on how to create better and sustainable value. Also, to ensure everybody saves face, the decision makers ensure only positive karma and no-one leaves the table feeling that they have been bitten on the ass.


Prepare your Karma

Is karma real or just imagined, I can’t comment, everyone has a different belief system. However I am sure that those people who ask the three questions at the start of the article around clarity, emotion and action actually take positive karma into the negotiation room.

Today people at both Arnott’s and Coles would be rubbing their sore and bitten butts, knowing that if the negotiation is not resolved there will be many Australians looking for different supermarkets to find their cherished Tim Tams.

If you are in your end-of-year negotiations, go into the next meeting and ask the three questions, and don’t move on until everybody agrees with the answers. You are not there to “win,” you are there to create greater value.