Once there was a business professor who was interested in marksmanship. He learned of a fantastic sharpshooter in the backwoods of Kentucky and decided to visit him to discover why he was successful. Upon arriving in the village, the professor was astounded to learn that the crack marksman was known as the village idiot. “What can I possibly learn about marksmanship from a person like this,” he wondered. Having traveled so far, he decided to stay another day to watch the village’s annual shooting contest.
Five contestants preceded the sharpshooter. As custom dictated, each marksman set up his own target. The contestants were all very good. At last the sharpshooter’s turn came. It was incredible. As the professor and villagers looked on, the sharpshooter took six shots in rapid succession. Everyone rushed to the target. There, for all to see, were six holes in the bull’s eye. It was uncanny. When the professor asked if the performance was typical, the villagers proudly replied that they had seen him do it time and again.
The professor, determined to learn the secret, befriended the marksman. This wasn’t easy because the sharpshooter didn’t have much to say. After considerable wining and dining, he divulged the full story. “It was easy,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. The trick, the professor learned was not in the shooting, but in mounting the targets. What he did to achieve success was to mount his own targets-targets which already had six holes in the center. The bullets were blanks.
The professor returned to the classroom a bit wiser. Were not many so-called negotiating targets a bit like that? Did not negotiators also shoot fast, obtain results, and then adjust the explanation to the results. In a sense, they took six shots and fitted them into the bull’s eye by moving the target where they wanted it to be.
Negotiation is one area of business where the village idiot’s approach to target setting is expensive. All too often, negotiators are more concerned with explaining results than in the results themselves. Something has gone wrong in the great scheme of things: like the village idiot, the bull’s eye has become the point at which we settle rather than the target we shoot for. Unfortunately, READY-FIRE-AIM is the way we approach negotiation targets.