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Negotiation Tip – A Lesson From Sir Alan Sugar

Last night, like millions of others around the UK, I was glued to the TV to watch the penultimate episode of the Apprentice. After a gruelling round of interviews, the five remaining candidates were to be whittled down to the final two. Lohit and Tre were dispatched in usual Alan Sugar style but the real bombshell was when Sir Alan told Katie she was through to the final.

The way he did this was masterful in my opinion because, whilst he offered her the place in the final, he demanded a clear and irrevocable commitment that, should she win, she would accept the position and not let him down. As he did this, he looked her straight in the eyes and was silent for what seemed a long time.

Katie’s uncharacteristically muted reaction was picked up by Sir Alan and a few minutes later, before deciding which of the remaining two candidates to select for the final, he turned back to Katie and asked her if she still wanted to make that commitment or whether she would rather withdraw. Again there was a long silence after his question as Katie squirmed before finally bowing out, leaving the field clear for the two remaining and in my mind, much more suitable candidates.

So what sort of game was Sir Alan playing? Had he made a critical mistake in offering Katie the place in the final? Well I guess we’ll never know for sure, but I believe that he played a very smart game and used a classic negotiating tactic in allowing Katie the dignity of capitulating without losing face.

I think that Sir Allan knew that Katie was never going to stick around and that her real goal was to kick start her own media career. He could have really launched into her and accused her of messing him around and never having the intention of accepting the job should she win it. Instead he chose to call her bluff and then give her a get out of jail free card.

In most negotiations when you have all the aces, it’s still not a good idea to rub your opponents nose in it when you get what you want. Allow them to back down with dignity and you’ll maintain their respect and avoid getting stabbed in the back yourself later.

Well done Sir Allan, you made the right decision and taught us all a powerful lesson in the process.

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