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Negotiation Training: When to Walk Away

By |July 04, 2022

The Black Swan Group has a saying: It’s not a sin to not get a deal, but it is a sin to not get a deal and waste a lot of time in the process.

Sometimes, negotiators overcommit to try to get the deal no matter the circumstances. Unfortunately, there isn’t always a deal to be made. Sometimes you’re the favorite, but other times you’re the fool, and the other side is just talking to you to get information they can use to get a better deal from somebody else.

How do you know whether you’re the favorite or the fool? Simple: Ask Proof of Life™ questions.

Negotiation Training: What Is a Proof of Life™ Question?

A Proof of Life question will help you determine whether there’s a deal to be made (i.e., you’re the favorite) or whether you’re wasting your time (i.e., you’re the fool). For example, your Proof of Life question might go something like this: Why, out of every company in the world, would you choose to do business with us? 

If you get a robust answer—We looked you up. Your track record is impeccable, your products are great, and we are excited at the prospect of working together—then your counterpart has a vision, and you’re included in it.

If their response is less direct—Great question. You tell me!—it indicates they are not interested in you and are instead shopping around to uncover additional information.

When your Proof of Life question reveals that you’re the fool, it’s time to cut your losses and move on to the next deal.

Not Every Deal Is a Good One

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of clients: HALFs, who are hard, annoying, lame, and frustrating, and ELFs, who are easy, lucrative, and fun.

HALFs will take up a ton of your time and make life more difficult for you in a business situation. Are these the people you want to do business with—particularly if we’re talking about three-year contracts? If not, let them down gently: It’s not the right time for us. Maybe we can do something in the future.

ELFs, on the other hand, are a godsend. They want the services you’re offering, they’re more receptive to your messaging, they’re easy to deal with, and they make life fun. You’ll look forward to doing business with them because they will brighten up your day and make you look great at your job.

When you use these negotiation skills, you might be able to lock up 10 ELFs that will take up 10 percent of your time—which is much more desirable than locking up five HALFs that will take up 90 percent of your time.

How to Recognize When It’s Time to Move On

Figuring out when to walk away starts with asking the right questions. In addition to your Proof of Life question, you should also sprinkle in no-oriented questions and Calibrated Questions™.

For example, you might ask: Would you be opposed to sharing your vision about us working together? If they share their vision of the future and you’re a part of it, they see themselves making a deal with you. On the flip side, if they don’t mention you, it’s a good indicator that they’re not considering you. 

Remember, yes without how is not worth anything—which is why you always need to discuss implementation. How do you see this coming together? When they give you a solid answer to that question, it indicates that they’ve given the question some thought, and a deal is much more likely to be made.

Negotiation Training: How to Walk Away

At the end of the day, nobody wants to feel like a failure. That’s why far too many negotiators don’t give up on bad deals. Unfortunately, when that happens, they compromise their position and give away information they shouldn’t, which is often used against them.

It bears repeating: It’s not a sin to not get the deal. It is a sin to take a lot of time and not get the deal.

When you realize you’re not getting a deal, be thankful: I appreciate your time, but it seems like there’s no way we can make this come together. And, because the last impression is the lasting impression, be sure to leave on a high note: If there’s an opportunity to do business together in the future, I would love a chance.

Most people walk away from the table feeling bitter. By putting your ego aside, getting out of your head, and being as cordial as possible, you increase the chances your counterpart will want to work with you in the future. And that’s still a victory.

To continue your negotiation training, check out our infographic about negotiating through the sales process.