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Based on The 110% Solution (1991) by Mark H. McCormack

Reviewed by Grady McAllister

December 2, 1995

Mark McCormack is best-known for his 1985 best seller What They Don’t Teach You in Harvard Business School . McCormack began his company, the International Management Group, in 1960 when he left his Cleveland Law practice to represent golfer Arnold Palmer.

Today, many people have trouble classifying I.M.G.: The same company that represents race car driver Jackie Stewart also represents the Noble Foundation. He states that his company’s mission "to find opportunities for top notch professionals operating in the international arena." He interprets that mission as ruling out football teams and rock stars, but it can include both tennis players and opera stars.

In The 110% Solution , his endorsements go on for eleven pages. Like his clients, they are diverse and range from former Vice President Spiro Agnew to Christie Hefner, Chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises.

One of the most readable of business authors, McCormack introduces the subject of negotiation with these words:

For eons, philosophers have tried to define what distinguishes human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom. Some say what sets us apart is our ability to reason; others, that it is our use of language…I would like to offer another uniquely human attribute: Man is the only animal that negotiates.

When lions kill, the strongest lion takes the prime bits, while the others settle for leftovers. There’s nothing for lions to discuss…Only humans talk things over to arrive at a solution. Only humans see the world in subtle enough terms to realize that decisions needn’t be all or nothing; some of what you want can be blended with some of what I want, and the result can be better for both of us.

McCormack says that negotiation is so essential that "a 110 percent approach to life necessarily includes a sensitivity to the nature of negotiation and a willingness to make it work."

According to McCormack, negotiation is an emotional as well as a rational activity. It acquires a momentum of its own and becomes more that the sum of its parts. In short, it is "a little drama all by itself." There is no "airtight formula" for success. Nonetheless, McCormack suggests that you keep these two elements in mind:

Timing. The truth is that people are not always masters of their moods, judging everything strictly on its merits. If you are a teenager, you don’t ask Dad for the car while he is walking in the door grumbling about his job. McCormack says, "This same commonsense approach to timing pertains to negotiations where millions of dollars are at stake."

Tone. There is at least some component of conflict in any negotiation. Otherwise there would be no need to have a negotiation. The conflict is not, in itself, a problem. However, "What can become a problem is a hostile or uncooperative tone that comes in response to the conflict." According to McCormack:

The importance of tone can hardly be over-stressed. It makes all the difference between a deal where the two parties truly feel like partners and one in which people are mistrustful and uneasy, always looking over their shoulder to see who’s getting the best of it.

The essence of negotiation is "clearing away the obstacles so that the other party can say ‘yes.’ " However, sometimes you have to help people to say "no":

There are many ways of persuading people to drop their armor, and maybe the easiest is simply to allow them the opportunity to get the no’s off their chest. People need to make a gesture establishing that they won't let themselves be pushed around.

In working with Arnold Palmer, McCormack would purposefully tell him about offers that he was sure to reject. Before finally presenting him with an important opportunity, McCormack might ask, "Are you ready for a serious question yet, or do you want to shoot me down a few more times first?"

McCormack says the "golden rule" of negotiation is to have clear understanding of what the other side wants and how you might be able to give it to them. This information gives you leverage: "You create more good will by trying to expedite the things they want to accomplish. You foster a tone of cooperation by trying to reconcile their needs with your needs."

Here are some common tactics that occur during the negotiating process:

The negative attack . You see this tactic when a bully goes on a tirade about the "one or two details out of a hundred" in which you performed less than perfectly. These are not valid complaints but tactics designed to weaken your position. The counter-tactic is to bring them up yourself, thereby "taking away his primary weapon."

The ultimatum. This tactic is to scare you into conceding anything that will keep that person at the table. McCormack writes: "Ultimatums are rarely the end of a negotiation. They are often the beginning."

The bulk order. The other party negotiates for a quantity price and, then, tries to buy a small amount. The counter-tactic is to "stick to your rate card."

Good cop/bad cop. The opponent sends in a negotiator whose sole purpose is to wear you down. Then, a "good guy" shows up who apologizes his associate's bad manners:

Of course, you gravitate toward the good guy -- because his temperament, demeanor and negotiating position appear to be more inviting.

The funny thing about the good cop/bad cop tactic is that I am very good at detecting it--but I fall for it anyway. In my heart I want to believe the good cop is on my side even when my brain is telling me he is playing a role and his act is not necessarily in my interest.

The best way to counter this is to "shut out the good guy" and "focus your energies on turning the bad guy around to your point of view." If that doesn't work, "you weren't going to do any better with his partner anyway."

The concession. McCormack describes three types of concessions that can happen in a negotiation:

  • The 50 percent solution is to concede but get nothing in return.
  • The 75 percent solution is to concede but only for something of equal value.
  • The 110 percent solution is to concede, but get more in return.

One way that negotiators may get more in return is by not letting the other party know when it is easy to meet their demands. Also, they may delay making a concession simply as a negotiating tactic. McCormack states:

There is nothing particularly sly about this. As a negotiator, you are under no obligation to tell the other side that a concession is easy to make or immaterial to you. And you don’t have to concede immediately.

The Times of London has called Mark McCormack "One of the 1,000 makers of the Twentieth Century." In 1995, McCormack released McCormack on Negotiating , a book that provides further details about his negotiating philosophy.

The Vasthead is the professional web site of
Grady McAllister of Houston, Texas.

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