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The Heart of the Deal: Transparency

“Life is too short to hide your cards.”

The best insight on negotiation that I ever received was in my first month as a lawyer. I was working in the legal department of Waste Management in Oak Brook, Illinois and had been tasked with drafting a letter to another company that would serve as the opening salvo in a settlement negotiation.

I sat across the desk from the senior, seasoned lawyer in charge of the project as he reviewed my draft. When he finished reading, he said, “It’s good, but you need to be more direct. Life is too short to hide your cards. Show them your cards and tell them what you want.”

My next draft did exactly that. And the opposing party showed their cards in response.

We settled the matter quickly, amicably and fairly.

I have carried that lesson on transparency throughout my career as a corporate attorney, marketing agency President and as the CEO of Broad Cove. In fact, transparency lies at the very heart of Broad Cove’s Intentional Value methodology for helping companies find and onboard the right experiential agencies and suppliers.

I have negotiated thousands of deals over the course of my 20+ year career. And regardless of whether I am negotiating with the likes of Walmart, Citibank, Verizon or with a freelance designer operating out of their dining room, my operating philosophy is the same: I am going to show you my cards and I am going to tell you what I want out of the deal. In my experience, when a counterparty is greeted with an open and transparent approach, they almost always follow suit.

Assuming both parties’ desired outcomes are reasonable, when they are playing an open hand of cards, the results are pretty spectacular:

1. The Relationships are Stronger. In most circumstances, a business deal is negotiated after the parties have done some courting and have arrived at an agreement on the key business terms (scope, timing and price). Everyone likes each other enough to get the lawyers involved and the actual work effort has not begun. The deal is the moment where the parties formally get hitched. Conducting the negotiation with transparency and collaboration is like going to couples counseling before you say, “I do.” And I can assure you that with trust and transparency established at the outset, it makes it easier to resolve conflicts that may arise down the road.

2. The Resulting Work Product is Higher Quality. Transparent negotiations are grounded in clarity, as both parties are being deliberate about what they need to have and what they need to avoid. This results in establishing clear expectations about responsibilities, timelines and deliverables. And with those expectations firmly established, the parties have created a blueprint for success.

3. The Deals Are Better…and Faster. When the parties purposefully drop their guard and disclose what they are trying to achieve, the negotiation is transformed from potentially adversarial to collaborative. Neither side is trying to beat the other. Rather, each side is trying to get their “win” while being mindful of other party’s “win.” As a result, the terms of the deal tend to be better for both parties and the parties are able to reach resolution much quicker.

Consider the alternative: an opaque approach where neither side has articulated what is important to them and what they are ultimately looking to achieve through the transaction.

Those negotiations often feel needlessly adversarial, with each party feeling suspicious of the other party’s intent while they are left hunting for clues in a prolonged exchange of redlines. The results are often a longer and more costly negotiation, a relationship built on a foundation of combativeness and a deal that is less a blueprint for mutual success than a troubleshooting guide if it all hits the fan.

Certainly, deals can and do get done that way.

But, life is too short. Put your cards on the table.