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The Gambler - a Master Class in Negotiation

Keith Stacey
The Gambler In Negotiation

As a lifetime student of negotiating, I’m going to share a secret with you: all you need to know is contained in the famous country and western anthem, The Gambler written by Don Schlitz and made famous by Kenny Rogers. 


The chance meeting with a stranger on an overnight train begins with a trade – a swig of whisky and last cigarette for the following advice. The stranger knows his advice has a value: 


I’ve made a life out of 

Readin’ people’s faces 

Knowing what the cards were 

By the way they held their eyes 


The stranger knows the importance of signals and reading them correctly. Those who give no signals are known as poker faced. Negotiators know that signals can be read from body language, language used and not used. They know signals are indicators of the flexibility essential to movement in negotiating. 


You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em 

Know when to fold ‘em 

Know when to walk away 

And know when to run 


Good negotiators know that some deals just can’t be done. The commercial and reputational risks are too great. No deal is better than any deal. On the other hand, patience is needed when a good deal is possible. Holding a strong hand will eventually be rewarded. Trying to rush the deal may spook the other party by exceeding their natural speed limit. 


You never count your money 

When you’re sitting at the table 

There’ll be time enough for countin’ 

When the dealin’s done 


Understand that no money is ever made at the signing of a deal at the negotiating table. The money flows from the implementation of the deal. The negotiator needs to understand this and ensure that the mutual gains are perceived as fair by all parties. 


Every gambler knows 

That the secret to survivin’ 

Is knowing what to throw away 

And knowing what to keep 


Skilled negotiators understand the difference between ‘must gets’ and ‘less important issues’.  ‘Musts’ are deal breakers while other issues are areas of potential flexibility that can be traded. 


‘Cause every hands a winner 

And every hands a loser 


A good hand (read strong position) does not guarantee success. Skill is necessary to reach agreement. Good hands can be squandered. 


So, there is it is – memorable and insightful. Thank you Don S and Kenny R for your insights. 

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