Negotiation Tips: The Rule About Rules

man in suit ready to negotiate

A Golden Rule in Negotiating is NOT to Obey the Rules

Years ago I negotiated with a large business and really upset them.  They kept sending me contracts to sign and I kept sending them back asking for amendments.  In the end they sent me an unsigned contract with a note saying this was their best offer and I must sign.

So I made a couple of amendments to it and signed it.  So keen was the CEO to conclude the contract that he sent a manager around to collect the contract. Before the manager left I asked him to check the contract and only take it back to his CEO if he was happy with it.

When he left I emailed the CEO and said that I’d signed it and could he check he was happy with it before signing it and sending me my copy.

A few days later my copy, complete with my amends, was returned signed by the CEO.

That’s when the fun began.  You see despite my requests that they should check details they hadn’t bothered and I now had the signed contract I wanted.

Now I should explain at this stage this was a compromise agreement.  My previous employer had wanted to outsource my work and instead of formally making me redundant had tried a devious and illegal scheme to get me to leave voluntarily.

I’d have happily been made redundant but wasn’t going to be treated in the way the employer was trying.  So we’d negotiated.

What upset them in the contract they signed was that I’d changed the wording in the contract to my advantage.  It was what I had asked for all the time and had said we’d go to court if we couldn’t agree.

When I asked that the terms of the contract be honoured they threatened to take me to court as I’d cheated!  I’d changed the wording in the contract they had written.

When I suggested they speak to their chair before proceeding they did so.  He was lawyer and quickly told them they had been exceedingly stupid in not checking the contract before signing.  Or at least that is what he told me when he called and apologised.

Apparently the CEO was upset because I had BROKEN THE RULES.  As the chair apparently pointed out to him there are no rules.

So why the long story?

Well I want you to understand their are no rules in negotiations.  Don’t fall for the rules trick.

Often the other side will say they can’t do something as it “is in the rules”.  They say “You’re not allowed to make changes to our contracts like that”.

You see there is no  law that says they’re the only one sallowed to add things to a contract. If they’re weren’t happy with my changes,  they should have let me know.  But, in law I don’t have the have their permission to make changes .. because they don’t have to sign it.

So convinced were they about their rules that, even when I asked them to check, they couldn’t comprehend I could break THEIR RULES.

This CEO was so arrogant that he not only thought he could break employment legislation, he thought he could dictate what was in any contract and I would have to sign what he said.

It was an extreme case but it highlights a common tactic used by experienced negotiators.  They know many people are conditioned to follow rules. So they make up official sounding pronouncements and insist that “this is the way it’s done” or “you’re not allowed to do that”.

If someone starts trying to push you by quoting rules, ask them to provide proof that such rules really exist.

Negotiation is about tow sides agreeing terms .. it isn’t about rules that don’t exist.