How does belief affect your reality when negotiating?

Most people make decisions intuitively.
— J. Edward Russo
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If there is anything that will destroy your negotiation, even before you start, it will be your belief that the other side is far stronger, wiser, bigger, has better products, or whatever.

This belief led to Goliath's downfall in the biblical story of David and Goliath. Many books refer to the size of Goliath and the mammoth battle with David. Let me share my quick summary:

Goliath was a giant of a man in the Philistine army who wanted to destroy the Israelites. Goliath was in the habit of coming down daily to intimidate the Israelites, hurling insults and demanding that a champion come forward and fight him. David, a shepherd boy, accepted the challenge. People looked at the slight child and scoffed. Saul, the King of the Israelites, tried to convince David that he would be committing suicide. Loosely translated, Saul told him, "You can't go against the Philistine to fight him! You're only a boy, and he's been a warrior all his life".

Saul's belief was that Goliath would slaughter David. David's approach to reality was with a slingshot and five smooth stones. The rest is history.

The story contains a great lesson for all negotiators. There are two things that come out of the story of David destroying Goliath:

  1. David acted bravely. Even though he didn't have the power over Goliath, he acted as if he did. His conditioning did not tell him that he would't be successful. If he believed that there was a difference, he would have been beaten.
  2. Goliath acted as if he had already won the battle. He had the power but then acted as if he didn't. He viewed David as a joke, took off his helmet, and was destroyed. His conditioning said, "Ha, I am the mightier so; I will crush him".

The reality was that he couldn't do so. 

Do you think that Goliath would have won is he had viewed David as equal? It would have been most likely.

Think about the last negotiation in which you were involved where your belief of the other side's power greatly exceeded the reality. What was the outcome of the negotiation?

Did you fail because your belief of the other side's power was greater than it was? If so, how can you minimise the risk of belief overruling reality?

The answer is simple: Enter into every negotiation with the feeling that all sides are here to negotiate. Then you will be on equal footing. If you can't do that, go into the negotiation with a slingshot and five stones - and imagine that you're David facing your own Goliath.

Test how habits form our perceptions: Next time you go to a busy office block or hotel, stand back and watch how often people push the lift button. It doesn't make the lift come any quicker, but the belief is that it will.