Learning by making mistakes

17. September 2017

Striving to improving your negotiation skills can be a humbling enterprise. When designing the Master Negotiator Curriculum, I ensure participants learn by mastering different objectives in negotiation cases, i.e. role-play simulations.

I am choosing these cases specifically to expose inconsistencies in argumentation, option seeking or strategy, such as the tendency to be overconfident or to assume that they are in a zero-sum-game.

Delegates (and people in general) tend to feel threatened when they discover that they have been making bad decisions because their intuition was flawed. If they see these mistakes as a personal deficiency, they sometimes start making excuses, blaming the very case and setting for being unrealistic or even unfair. They feel “tricked”.

In order to grow negotiation skills, however, changing sub-optimal behavior presupposes feeling uncomfortable with some aspects of a specific action.

Otherwise, why should you even change (it)? This is the reason I reserve quite a bit of time in the beginning of any training to explaining the importance of giving and receiving feedback. It is essential and making mistakes a prerequisite to learning.

Feedback like “you were pretty good, stay like you are” is simply not enough. It is impertinent to be able to name the specific action that should be changed, and how. Only then can the participant choose freely whether they want to try a new line of action.

In negotiations, sometimes you win,
and sometimes you learn.

Brain research has firmly shown that negotiators are susceptible to judgment biases and perception traps like the “Primacy” or “Halo” effect (see Master Negotiator p108). These shape our decisions in negotiations unconsciously.

Once you allow yourself that awkward feeling of making mistakes, you’ll be in a much better position to change patterns that help you improve your negotiations relationships, options and outcomes.

So before going into your next negotiation, make sure you win either way: getting your objective, or learning what you could do better next time.

Tip: Don´t waste your mistakes. I am here to help preparing you for your negotiation and spotting your learning experience as your Negotiation Joker.

New Sparring Center opens doors

22. May 2017

It was relaxing and uplifting, our Opening celebration. We were enjoying each others company, stories, and having lental soup, tea and ice-cream together. Our doors are now open for the next Sparring Rounds

Sparring, Workshops or Online-Joker – don´t wait any longer to get the support & results you deserve.


Thanks to one of our SparringClub Pro members, who happens to also be a superb photographer, Dr. Georg Krismanic, we are able to offer you views from around the whole Sparring and Coaching Center here:

Want to see our seminar room in 3 D – Just walk in here

Want to see our coaching room in 3 D – Just walk in here

Are you dealing with people? Give them hope and have a future.

9. December 2015

Like most of my clients I am working in the “knowledge industry”. No matter if you are a legal, financial, pharmaceutical, sales or other expert: Ultimately you deal with the transfer, activation and/or implementation of your knowledge to help your clients better achieve their objectives, just like I do with my keynotes and training.

So I figured I should share a few ideas from attending the #KnowledgeSummit here in Dubai, UAE. They made me think about my role as Negotiation Counselor again.

“It´s said that you can survive for 40 days without food, you can survive eight days without water, you can survive for eight minutes without air, but you cannot survive for one second without hope. Education is about hope” stated Gordon Brown.

I totally support that. When giving keynotes, It still strikes me every time how important the element of hope is, and how thankful the audience for it, independent of the content.

Sure enough, not only negotiations break down without hope, but so do most interpersonal relationships. As many of you know, I am very heavily leaning on the concept of “trust” in my workshops. I guess i will have a closer look at “hope” (for a better outcome, relationship, or what it might be) from now on.

Knowledge Summit Dubai

Interestingly, Brown mentions this also in a context that has been occupying all of us: “Even in the most hopeless of situations, we can create hope […] When it comes to the refugee problem in this region, where young people are without hope, we have got to give them that hope by making sure that they have education”.

Couldn´t agree more. And let me add that education might also help with another group that gives reason for grave concern: Young people that are not sure what to do with their lives, some of which end up finding interest in fundamentalist ideologies, whatever their name, color or shade.

I love the thought that I should be able to create hope in my area.

Maybe you like it, too. Let us make it the starting point to make this place a better one.

Efficiency Interview

18. July 2015


Interview conducted and originally posted by Syngroup on 17.3.2015


With the right objectives in mind. And these are often derived from our own aims in life. Just negotiating well or efficiently is hardly going to bring me happiness in life. I first need to reflect on what I actually want. What kind of benefit do I derive from taking the supplier to the cleaners and bankrupting him?


Negotiating efficiently means sounding out where I can create added value at no cost to me. Negotiating effectively means setting yourself the right objectives and pursuing them in the negotiation process. When someone pushes past me in the checkout queue at a supermarket, I can either negotiate or simply do nothing. But I do need to know beforehand whether it is worth it for me. Do I have to be in the right, as otherwise I’ll lose face? Then perhaps it’s not worth the effort. If I can turn round and soon forget all about it, it is of no consequence.


Yes. Because the things that make us what we are – creativity, belief, hope, happiness or luck – are not efficient. This means that negotiations do have some kind of hybrid structure. They are not just about contents, but also about relationships.


Exactly. Efficiency is, after all, a very mechanical attribute. If however you happen to have a trusting relationship between two parties, people or groups, the actual content is often not a particular problem. It’s like in a marriage. If the two people in a marriage understand one another, the question of whether the face cloth should be on the left or the toothbrush on the right is no longer an unsolvable issue.


These two aspects can’t be separated. Only if I am prepared to negotiate am I capable of negotiating. Lots of people tend to think that you always have to be hard when negotiating. That’s completely wrong. You have to strive for both sides to come out with something. Of course it’s a spectacular sight to see someone bang on the table and say: “Take it or leave it, Baby.” Everyone then thinks this is how to negotiate. But this is only one minute in a month-long process. I would like all of us to learn to negotiate better. And to actually properly negotiate. And not be afraid of facing up to things.

DR. STEFAN AMIN TALAB, LL.M. is a coach in negotiating, author of the bestseller
The Master Negotiator and director of the comeon.institute. He is a qualified economist and lawyer, developer of the sought-after Negotiation Sparring and is active throughout the world as a “ghost negotiator” and key note speaker.

Best of negotiation: Q&A

15. March 2015

If you had the opportunity to ask any question on the topic of negotiation, which questions would you ask?

These were the choices of a group of Bulgarian top-performers in the financial sector:

The best negotiation strategy…

…takes into consideration ones´ goals, but also the interest of both parties, the relative strengths of the negotiation partner, the human needs of influencers and deciders not present at the negotiation table, the expectation effect for future encounters and the relationship level, among a heap of other factors.

When negotiating in a culturally diverse world …

…one has to negotiate the basic understanding first, i.e. what do negotiation partners expect from the process and how do they want to come to a decision. This is inherently more difficult than staying in one´s own culture, since communication clues on all levels (body language, intonation) as well as deeply rooted beliefs (power and thus decision structure, risk averseness, implicitness) have to be taken into account.

To give a very simple example: In one of the last negotiations with an Indian counterpart my client was very disturbed by the fact that woman in question shook her head whenever he argued something. For him, it was like a constant rebuttal. “She is not even listening to my arguments!” was the message my client was getting.

Only after a short recess and my explanation that in that part of India shaking one´s head was equivalent to nodding in France and meant “Yes, I understand, go on…” was he open to concentrate on the issues again.

Negotiations are (not) …

Since we enter negotiations every time we want others to do, think or believe something different then they would without our influence negotiation are all about the art of reaching goals and wielding influence on others. Hence, negotiations are as complex as human interaction can be.

Is there an “unique” negotiation strategy, independent on the different cultural backgrounds…

There are “unique” expressions of feelings that are the same in all cultures, e.g. happiness (corners of the mouth up), sadness (corners of the mouth down), disgust (nose wrinkles), but that is about all that is common.

Since negotiation partners pursue different goals, value different principles and go about differently when achieving objectives, an optimal strategy has to adapt to the situation and the people involved. It certainly helps to know many different strategies and I have developed a “Master strategy” in my book “The Master Negotiator”. However, it involves elements of different strategies and becomes effective by changing the strategy each time to fit the intricacies of the negotiation.

Your vivid  example for a challenging and successful situation in negotiations…

I´ve experienced that people find it most challenging and difficult to either negotiate with family (e.g. on how to organize the transfer of a business from one generation to the next), on their own behalf like selling your time and asking for honorary fees (see my German report) or when they want to achieve the objective so badly that they don´t really mind the cost (e.g. they want the job no matter what).

All these situations are challenging, but can be overcome with the focus on the right points and dedication to put time and thought into it. Good negotiators consistently try to enhance their understanding of the process and analyze what works and what can be improved. You can also do this by following my blog here

Some time ago I accompanied a client who faced the situation that he had charged different prices for the same product in different national markets mainly due to diverging purchasing power. When (corporate) purchasers started to organize and exchange information they found out that one (poorer) client had received the product at considerable lower costs. The situation was very difficult and while some buyers did accept the differences and explanation, other insisted to demand the lowest price for themselves.

After several rounds of negotiations we reached a stand-off. It was considered impossible by everyone that we could solve the situation since the poorest buyer would not pay more and contributed a decisive revenue. We decided to do what no one thought thinkable and what never had been done before: the product was pulled out of the cheapest market. The revenue fell, but the argumentative basis for our opponents was demolished. In the short-term my client had to sacrifice considerable revenue, but after not too long the margins worked out and showed in the profit and share price.

Sometimes you can´t budge difficult decisions and you have to take the risk. But as they say: no risk – no gain (and also no fun, of course).

In order to develop our negotiation skills… 

you should have a look through the different negotiation theories, work on your options and communication as well as argumentation and listening skills and, in general, identify the 6 core strengths mirrored in the blocks of the Master Negotiator Curriculum.

There is a complimentary video available on those strengths here.

To really play in the top-league plan and take the time (minimum 1 day per year) to actively train and and get intensive feedback from professionals as well as people that you don´t know and won´t see again. I developed a format for exactly with the 1/2 day Negotiation Sparring.

If possible, also get a Ghost Negotiator who reviews difficult situations with you and helps you develop into a Master Negotiator.

Negotiation lessons you can learn from your cat

19. August 2014

As workshop participant or blog reader you know what I am referring to when speaking about the “shark”, the “bear” or the “cat” as negotiation types. The readers of my bestselling “Master Negotiator” even have a drawing in their book:

Master Negotiator Cat

My Master Negotiator Assuad

All the characteristics of this negotiation type and how to handle him are described there.

Today I want to share with you some final thoughts regarding my inspiration for the type “cat” and one of my personal “Master Negotiators”, my real cat Assuad. By his behavior he (a tomcat, and I can´t bring myself to say “it”) gave me ideas and the possibility to observe from first hand experience how to obtain pretty much everything you want and still become your best friend. So it seems only fair enough to honor him now he has gone from me for good.

As Master Negotiator he sure got a good deal out of life. I mean, he did get good food (and ever more of it), had a warm house and was sheltered and cared for every moment in his life. As companion of a writer and expert doing a lot of reading and research at his home office he enjoyed every new idea for my new books and articles, every new exercise for a workshop first. Many a thought that people would later applaud to in my speeches had he helped develop by his mere presence and listening skills. Cat owners among will confirm that he really was listening, just pretending to be sleeping at my table, which you could verify by his sudden comments and the fact that would have no qualms leaving at once if my performance was too long, monotone or otherwise not exciting enough (not bound by any idea of politeness).

There was a lot to negotiate, from the amount and the times of food over who would be allowed to sleep at what place to how long I could stay out of the house without having him complain bitterly on my return. As particularly difficult I remember the negotiations over who I should rather play with and pay attention to, my children or him. Of course he solved it like a Master in the end as he would sit on the most interesting peace of action so everyone would play with him.

He was perfect in ensuring he would never be perceived as an adversary to anyone (ok, there were times when he woke me up 4 in the morning to prepare food which came close to hating him, but was made up for by sitting  next to the food bowl enjoying a still moment together in the dark).

Regarding give & take I admit I did buy and pay his food, medicine, cat litter, toys and various treats and other things with nothing material coming in return. Still, he gave me something much more valuable: his love, his understanding, his time, warmth and affection. Many people seem to think that (negotiation) relationships are about the exchange of physical, material things only. This is the Zeitgeist and might sometimes make sense for short term relationships (e.g. buying a house).

The real Master Negotiator Cat

However, negotiation relationships are also a way of relating and bonding with each other, opportunities to share our understanding of this world, this temporary universe for all of us. Understanding negotiations this way would make it so much easier to learn from each other and closing negotiations not only with a practical result, but with the warm feeling inside we sometimes are allowed to take away from a good open chat or a conflict solved respectfully . Equally, a negotiation partner who will be ready to sharing your success and failure as a partner, as compared to winning at your cost, is what you should be looking for in life.

What I will be missing so much is my cats capacity to share my joy and excitement as well as my sadness and bad times. Assuad would be there with me and share those feelings, thereby doubling my joy and splitting my sadness. After all, we are social animals and sometimes seem to have lost that basic quality in life. It is not about the end (which always will be death, for all of us), but the way to get there.

I will never have the chance to negotiate anything with you again, Assuad, my personal Master Negotiator. But I will remember you and the lessons you allowed me to learn from you. Always.

Rest in peace, my beloved cat. I will miss you and our daily negotiations terribly.

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