There is a timeless anecdote about a young lumberjack eager to prove his mettle. He arrives on the first day and puts in a solid day’s work, full of energy and gusto. At the end of the day he has cut down less trees than the more experienced lumberjacks working with him.
Not one to be discouraged, he determines to arrive a half hour earlier than the others the next day. After a grueling day felling trees, the young man realises that he has cut even less than the day before. With admirable resolution, the young man decides to arrive an hour earlier on the third day and to keep at it until after dusk. Even still, he has less logs to show for the third day’s work.
Exasperated, the young logger asks one of his experienced colleagues what he’s missing. The older lumberjack tells him that the secret is to spend time sharpening your axe. The young man’s tool was dulled from overuse and so his striving produced poor results.
There is a lesson to be learned here for our negotiation practice. Preparation is a key part of the process and this preparation requires us to make informed assumptions. The process of testing our assumptions in a negotiation is like sharpening the axe - it allows us to take stock of what we know, pressure-test our preparation and make changes to our strategy accordingly. Often times taking an adjournment from the meeting, even for five minutes, gives us the space to make these changes.
If you are putting in a lot of effort and not getting the desired results in your negotiations, maybe you need to think more about your preparation. Spend time sharpening the axe to achieve more desirable outcomes.