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The Power of the Effective "Nice" Negotiator

“Civility is not a sign of weakness.” - John F. Kennedy.

“When they go low, we go high.” - Former First Lady Michelle Obama.*

"Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet them on your way down." - Wilson Mizner.

“No person in the world ever lost anything by being nice to me.” - Lillie Langtry

“…by being nice, being empathetic, building relationships and listening, people begin to recognize that you're thoughtful and respectful of their position.” - Shelley Moore Capito

"If you want to gather honey, don't kick over the beehive." - Dale Carnegie

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In the Western culture, often playing “nice” is not admired if one is a negotiator. Instead, what is more often advocated is that negotiators be:



-use a winning approach

Underlying these approaches is the zero-sum game theory, also known as the “fixed pie” idea. This approach envisions a fixed pie or a fixed number of resources and one must fight to get at least their fair share or even more. These approaches sometimes work in the short run and rarely work in the long term.

A better approach is to be goal-oriented. Winning, being adversarial, take-no-prisoners is not the goal. The goal is usually selling or buying an item, developing a corporation, creating a program, often through the signing of a contract or agreement. So, what is the best approach to securing the stated goal? Often, being nice. By being “nice,” often a relationship, either short or long, is created.

Reclaiming “Nice.”

Washington Post Writer John Kelly (12/21/2020 article) advocates that the US “reclaims the word nice.” The word “nice” has a long and tortuous Etymological journey, possibly coming from the Latin root Nescius, leading to a definition of “agreeable.” The word nice is expansive, suitable for all occasions, and is quite flexible. So how does “nice” work in negotiations?

The Power of Nice

Authors Ronald M. Shapiro's and Mark A. Jankowski's The Power of Nice captures accurately the concept of the Powerful Effective Nice Negotiator. They claim that nice folks finish first and advocate the following behaviors:

Offer a Sweet: This behavior makes folks feel comfortable so they are able to discuss whatever is on their minds that might affect the transaction. Examine the location for comfortability. Offer refreshments. Make the guests “The Stars.” This behavior in the ideal plants the seeds for effective communication and negotiation.

Flash a Smile: Research has shown that just by being positive one can increase the likelihood of reaching an agreement by 2-4%. This is not much, but worthy of the time. Being positive is contagious, setting the stage for success.

“Every time you smile at a messenger, laugh at a coworker's joke, thank an assistant, or treat a stranger with graciousness and respect, you throw off positive energy. That energy makes an impression on the other person that, in turn, is passed along to and imprinted on the myriad others he or she meets.”

Put Your Head on Their Shoulders: This sounds like the theme of “walking in someone else’s shoes.” To fully understand why they are doing the things they are doing or saying the things they are saying, one puts one’s head on their shoulders and imagines the situation in their way.

An Abraham Lincoln quote is appropriate for this section:

"When I go to meet with a person, I spend 1/3 of my time planning what I am going to do or say and 2/3 of my time thinking what they are going to do or say."

Throw out the Scoreboard: The authors are urging folks to stop keeping score. Instead, focus on the goal and how to achieve such.

Help Your Enemies: Instead of condemning people who might be perceived to be the enemy of the obstacle, see if one can further understand them. What’s their motivation? Are they scared? Do they hate change? Maybe they don’t like some others who are involved? Devote energy to give them enough information to see if they can be turned around. One way is to make them doubt their positions which could open the door to creative ideas.

Further, the authors say that being “Nice” must be automatic. One should remember that people change. They also follow the idea that “you never know.” That is, you never know when a person has a connection or a link that could be beneficial at a later time.

They assert that “nice companies” have lower employee turnover, lower recruitment costs, and higher productivity.

Also, “nice people” live longer, are healthier, and make more money.

(These author assertions remind of author Adam Grant’s Give and Take concept.)

Effective, Nice Negotiators are Confident

To be effective, Nice Negotiators need to be confident. Author Travis Bradberry describes the characteristics of being confident:

-Be Nonjudgmental

-Be a good listener

-Celebrate others

-Seek out small victories

-Not afraid to ask for assistance

-Not afraid to be wrong

-They do not seek attention

Instead, effective, nice negotiators are goal-oriented, knowing that the above listed behaviors will create a positive environment for problem solving and negotiation.

The Power of Honesty

Very interesting that a lot of people believe that “Nice” people communicate indirectly and they are not as honest as they should be because directness and honesty can hurt.

In actuality, the type of “Effective Nice Negotiator” the blog is describing is direct and is honest. In fact, if the Nice Negotiator were not genuinely honest, they may not be viewed as credibly and genuinely nice.

“To be honest is to be real, genuine, authentic and bona fide…Honesty expresses self respect and respect for others.” - William J. Bennett, The Book of Virtues

The fastest way to lose ‘Character’ is to lose honesty.” - Aesop

“It is often harder to be honest, than to be silent; and that trusting ourselves is the best road to truth.” - Han Christian Anderson

“Honesty is one of the most crucial elements of a successful relationship.”

“Honesty in civil business is the sovereign good of human nature.” - Francis Bacon, 1625

Further, people often conflate honesty and being open about information.

Class Exercise: In his Negotiations Law School class, Professor Larry Ray draws two continua on the board:


-Open about information………………………………………………………..Closed.

He asks each student to place a checkmark as to where an effective negotiator should be.

Most students check near the middle of both.

Ray then describes the learning: First, in American, maybe Western cultures, Honesty and Open are conflated. In negotiation, it is wise to separate the two.

-Honesty is part of a person’s reputation. An effective, nice negotiator needs the reputation of being honest. In being honest, trust is achieved and most know that if a person trusts one, one can be much more persuasive.

-On the other hand, openness about communication is strategic. In the ideal, all negotiating parties would be perfectly open and the negotiation would progress easily. This is often not the case. Giving information falls into the “give and take” or reciprocity area. If one gives some information, they expect some info back. If they do not receive any info back, an effective negotiator does not give more, but instead takes time to examine why the other party is being closed.

Sometimes that reason is a “people issue.” That is, maybe they don’t like or trust the other party. In that case, one needs to use people skills to engender liking and trusting. People skills include listening, summarizing, questioning, etc.

The Power of the Positive No

The effective “Nice” negotiator realizes that there are many times when saying “No” is necessary, but there is an art to saying "No" civilly, without injuring the relationship.

Many people find saying "No" challenging. First, a lot of people want to be accommodating so they often say "Yes" when the conditions dictate they should be saying "No." Secondly, they are afraid that saying "No," even when they need to, may injure the relationship and thus, the negotiations. Third, often they just hope the situation will go away so they avoid the No.

The Sandwich Approach

Some, like Sid Savara in How to Say No with the Empathy Sandwich, advise saying a solid "No" by placing it between two Yes’s; thus, the sandwich. Example:

“Hi _____,

Thanks for thinking of me for ______. (restate the exact issue for clarity)

Empathize – I hear where you are coming from/have been there myself

Decline – I’m sorry, but I can’t commit to ____. (state exact issue)

[Offer Others to Help] – Have you tried asking ___? Do you mind if I put you in contact with ___ who has more expertise?

Empathize Again – I understand where you are coming from.

[Can Help In Future] – I can’t help this time, but perhaps I’ll be able to be of assistance in the future.


The Positive No Approach - The Tree

This book The Power of the Positive No by William Ury has the vision of a tree. The trunk symbolizes the solid No; the roots, a positive basis; and the branches, the positive growth potential.

Step One: Prepare. The first “Yes” states your interests. This asserts your power and relationship.

Step Two: Delivery of the solid No with respect.

Step Three: The follow through. The second Yes with a possible agreement or furthering the relationship.

Example: Trainer Larry developed (with many others) a new course for the AMA (American Management Association). He rolled out the course in NYC. The other developers sat in the back, observing. After a successful morning, the developers offered to take Larry out for lunch, but Larry needed to teach online during lunch.

-YES, I would love to go to lunch with you.

-NO, I cannot go today since I need to teach online during lunch.

-YES, I will go to lunch with you next month when I return to NYC.

The Power of the Apology

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” - Benjamin Franklin

“Apologizing does not always mean you're wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value your relationship more than your ego.” - Mark Matthews

“An apology is the superglue of life! It can repair just about anything!!”- Lynn Johnston

Master Negotiator Dale Carnegie advises people to clearly identify when an apology is needed. When needed, give a clear and emphatic apology.

An effective “Nice” negotiator realizes the power of the apology. They realize that the apology is a great tool in the “Negotiator’s Toolbox.”

Regrettably it is estimated that 90% of the apologies given in the workplace are ineffective.

What comprises an ineffective apology?

-Maybe the nonverbal communication does not match the verbal


-Using the Yes, but approach

-Spiraling: If I have offended anyone

-Timing may not be right

-Behavior in question continues

-Sometimes, too many?

-Sometimes, it is mandated or forced

-Is the motive questionable?

U.S. News & World Report, May 10, 2004, “On Society” John Leo describes 13 ineffective apology types. Among them:

-The basic conditional apology. If you took offense at anything I said….

-The I-was-misunderstood non-apology

-The I-gotta-be-me conditional: I responded as I saw fit. Some things may have been offensive. To those people, I offer my apologies.

What comprises an effective apology?

An effective apology should be clear and succinct.

-I apologize to you.

-I am sorry.

Most of the time the receiver knows why the apologist is offering the apology. If they don’t, the receiver can easily ask. The apologist can then add and be more specific.

-I apologize for being contradictory during our meeting yesterday.

-I am sorry I burst into your office this morning without announcement.

Then the apologist should wait for the acknowledgement and the acceptance. If not, the apologist may have to take other steps.

The Five Languages of Apology: Author Gary Chapman asserts that apologies are core to maintaining and healing relationships. Learning how to apologize can be of tremendous benefit. There are five elements:

-Expressing Regret: “I am sorry.”

-Accepting responsibility: “I was wrong.”

-Making restitution: “What can I do to make it right?”

-Genuinely repenting: “I’ll try not to do that again.”

-Requesting forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”


So, if one is an effective and wise negotiator or conflict manager, one is goal-oriented. The goal is not winning. Instead, the goal is usually selling or buying an item; creating a program, partnership, or corporation. They are wise enough to know that a non-adversarial, civil, nice approach is the best way to achieve long-lasting results. They want to have a reputation as an effective, goal-oriented, “nice” negotiator. Having this reputation results in people wanting to negotiate and wanting to problem solve with them in the short and long term.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become your character.

Watch your character; they become your destiny.” - Frank Lawler


*Remember when Senator Mark Rubio in 2015 decided he would go low on the level of the then Candidate Donald Trump. It progressed very poorly. Maybe Obama is right. One can stay “high” and still focus on goals.

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