Business Negotiation November 26, 2013

Maintaining the Initiative-Keep Talking, Keep Talking

One of the great mergers of the Twentieth Century was between TCI, the cable giant, and Bell Atlantic, a huge telephone and communications company. How they reached agreement after talks broke down was reported in Time Magazine.

The Chief Executive Officers of both companies met on a large yacht. They negotiated for hours but could not agree. Finally they decided to give up and head for shore.

At that point, however, a mechanical problem arose on the yacht. The ship’s anchor could not be raised. It was stuck on the ocean floor. No amount of power or pulling helped. After quite a while the crew recognized a professional diver was necessary, so they radioed for one. It took hours for the diver to get to the yacht.

Having nothing else to do, the two CEO’s started to talk again. They talked and talked while waiting for the diver to clear the anchor. They went over old ground, came up with some new options, changed the price, and worked further on possible terms, conditions, and controls. Before reaching shore, many hours later, they had arrived at an agreement both had thought out of reach.

Talking has a momentum of its own. It carries the parties along like the current in a river. Long talks reveal hidden needs, unseen alternatives and potential benefits not previously thought possible or relevant. When talks bog down, a good way to keep things going is to continue the discussions in any way you can.

As to the TCI-Bell Atlantic store, the agreement hammered out on the stalled boat didn’t sail in the end. About six months later the deal between them was called off as a result of severe price gyrations in the stock market. Perhaps they will start talking again.

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