Lessons from the Negotiation Master – “Always Leave Something for the Birds”

by Omid Ghamami

Let me share with you a negotiation story that I hope you will learn from.

My dad passed this last December.  He was a diplomat for many years, and after all, he was my greatest negotiation teacher. 

In his elder years, we made a decision to go to my orchard every Sunday and sit down under this beautiful but strangely shaped oak tree, on dirty chairs with a dirty table on an unstable platform, with an old Swiss army knife to cut the fruit – all things that we could find great beauty in when together.

Every time we would go to pick fruit together, he would never let me pick all the fruit.  He insisted that we are not the only stakeholders in the fruit trees. 

“You have to leave some for the birds” he would proclaim passionately.  “This is theirs too. They have a claim to this fruit.  You have to leave them some.  You have to share with them.  You can’t just take it all.”

For as long as he was able to get to the trees with my help, he would personally ensure this objective. This position overrode everything else when we were picking the fruit, and he would not allow us to continue once that magic threshold was met in his mind.  

Then when he couldn’t walk to the trees any longer, I would just take him to the table and chair and help him sit down.  Then I’d go get the fruit.  Upon bringing the fruit back, he focused not on their beauty or smell or the general bounty.  He would again ask me many times, tree by tree, to ensure there was sufficient fruit left for the birds.

Eventually he couldn’t go at all, and I had to honor his desire on my own, though with far less enjoyment.

It took me years to really understand the depth of his message.  It was then that I realized that this was not about fruit trees and birds at all.  It was about life, and how you handle situations where you can be the winner who takes all – such as we frequently can in procurement.

I realized that this was how he negotiated his entire life while a diplomat and then again later as an entrepreneur. 

He knew that if you leave some fruits for the birds, the birds in turn will reward you.  They are the ones that help pollinate your trees. Without the birds, you yourself will have less fruit.

He would succeed in complex and contentious negotiations because he made it a priority for the other side to have some fruit on the tree – something in this deal to make them a winner too. 

And your suppliers are the ones that, perhaps have more influence on your procurement career success than any other stakeholder you work with.  Think about that for a second.   Are you sure your negotiation strategy should be to take all that fruit for yourself?

Birds who have been given no share in the orchard – which they helped to pollinate – will stop focusing on your orchard.  They’ll go to other orchards, where there is something to be had for both parties.   

Do you think your suppliers are any different?  A winner takes all only approach offers only short term rewards.

Win/Win unfortunately has come to mean you slice the pie down the middle.  Let me be so clear: That is Lose/Lose, because neither party got what they wanted out of the deal.

It’s the understanding of the different assets – knowing which of your fruit the other party finds the sweetest, and maybe you’re swimming in – that allows you to craft a well thought through series of bilateral concessions that result in the supplier valuing what you gave away more than what you did, and them giving you concessions that do the same (less painful for them, more valuable for you). 

Take the words of my father, the negotiation grand master in my life, to heed and to think about how you will weave this into your negotiation strategies. 

The paradox is this: if you do this right, you yourself will get more out of the deal than you would have gotten otherwise, as you learn to make the pie bigger, and your supplier will be happier as a result as well.   Now that the is art and science of negotiations.

Think about how you will craft your negotiation strategies next time, first with investigative negotiations to find out what fruit the other party likes (and don’t assume it’s just the money!), then develop a powerful concession trading strategy you will use to drive your negotiations.

There is so much more to say about this topic, but it’s at the core of where we struggle in negotiations.  And you guys are so much better than that.

Now go off and do something wonderful!

Omid G

“THE Godfather of Negotiation Planning” ~ Intel Corp.


P.S. almost 50% of the Fortune 100 have now invested in the CPSCM Certification – the only certification in the world where you can see the materials and hear your personal instructor’s voice throughout.  If you want to learn the end to end basic of procurement and negotiations, there are lots of certifications out there and you should pursue them.  If you want to do a deep dive on transforming your career and your procurement department, we are here for you.  Taking costs out of the supply chain, achieving 18% savings on average before negotiations ever start, rearchitecting your negotiation strategies to be away from the table instead of at the table, writing contracts for performance results instead of goods & services, and securing procurement with a hard seat at the table.  That’s what we do.  Join the revolution.  

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