9 Key Rules for Negotiation—from a Marine Turned Investment Banker


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Over the years, Ken Marlin, author of The Marine Corps Way to Win on Wall Street, has negotiated a lot of transactions, but some of the most intense negotiating came while he was in the Marine Corps. Here are nine of the lessons about negotiating well and effectively.


QDT Editor

Rule 1: Be Prepared to Walk Away from the Table

Early in my Marine Corps career, I figured out that you can’t “negotiate” if the other side perceives that you are unwilling to walk from the table. If not, you‘re just begging. It’s a weak strategy.

Rule 2: Stay focused

Know what is important—and what is not. You are going to win every point. Stick to the important stuff—and try to understand what is important to the other side. You might create win-win outcomes.

Rule 3: Recognize When You Have Leverage—and When You Don’t

Henry Kissinger negotiated to end the US involvement in the Vietnam War. Some thought he had leverage because the US had the bigger military, more money, and was killing the enemy at a furious rate. But the other side knew that the US wanted out. They had been fighting for 25 years and were willing to continue for another 25. They had the leverage.

Rule 4: Tell the Truth

Marines aren’t supposed to lie. To some on Wall Street, on Main Street, and in politics, that’s just naïve. But the cost of getting caught lying during (or after) any negotiation can be devastating.

Rule 5: Remember the Peace

The signing of contracts or peace accords usually marks the end of a phase, not necessarily the end of a relationship. Usually the parties don’t want to later reengage in combat (or litigation). Remember the peace.

Rule 6: Negotiate Big Things First

Negotiating small things first is a good way to kill agreements. (See Rule #2.) Negotiate the big things first.

Rule 7: Don’t Bully

Bullying rarely works. It usually just makes people angry. And yet, time and again we see people negotiate as if they had all the power. (See rule #3.) When the bully has his/her bluff called he loses credibility and leverage.

Rule 8: It Is Personal

Too often I hear someone say some variant of “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” But, in many cases, the outcome of negotiations can affect people’s livelihoods, careers, finances, reputations, and legacies. It may be business, but it’s not always “just” business—often, it’s also personal.

Rule 9: Take Reasonable, Defensible Positions

Too often we see people stake out irrational negotiating positions expecting to achieve something close to it. When called to justify their position they prevaricate. Conversely, those who start with reasoned logical positions can stick to them unless a competing logic convinces them otherwise. It’s a stronger hand. It’s about taking the moral high ground.

The Marine Corps Way to Win on Wall Street is available from on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Booksamillion, and iTunes. An excerpt is available here.

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