Terry Hird thinks most people don’t see the forest through the trees when they approach a business negotiation.
“Businesspeople tend to focus on signing the contract,” he said. “We’ve learned that there are deals that look good on paper but don’t come to fruition because people focus more on tactics and beating the other side as opposed to creating interest and value.”
Hird is the founder of Negotiation International, a San Francisco training and consulting company that teaches businesspeople to approach negotiations in the most efficient and effective manner.
He started his business a little over one year ago. Today, he consults for companies such as Genentech Inc. (DNA), Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), InterMune Inc. (ITMN), and Samsung.
He also teaches courses on business negotiation and international business strategy at the University of California at Berkeley Extension.
Hird started his career as a self-employed international trade and export business owner. In 25 years of working for himself, he was constantly dismayed at his inability to keep his operating costs down. That’s when he decided to sharpen his negotiation tools.
“I became frustrated with my inability to cut down on the costs of things like litigation and realized that maybe the most cost-effective way to do things was to improve my negotiations skills,” he said. “I took some courses and learned more about that and it led to a career teaching it. I sold my companies and got into it and really like it and I’m good at it.”
Hird said Americans tend to have trouble not only negotiating within themselves but also across cultures. He is often hired to counsel negotiations on specific deals internationally. He said one of his most exciting negotiations involved a French company that wanted to complete a multimillion-dollar contract with a Korean company to build a refinery in Iran.
He spent weeks shuttling back and forth between the three countries before helping to settle on a symbiotic contract for all three parties. He said there is much to learn in the negotiation styles of other cultures.
“Americans tend to focus much more onthe deal, cutting to the hunt, closing the deal,” said Hird. “If you go to Asia, the goal of a negotiation isn’t so much the contract or the deal as it is the beginning of a relationship. It’s a very different approach. Litigation is almost unheard of in Japan, so it’s a partnership that they create with their negotiations.”
In spite of all of his international experience, Hird said his most successful personal negotiation was at home between him and himself when he was debating whether or not to take on his consulting business full time.
“I had to look at myself and what my interests were and convince myself of it,” he recalled. “That was probably the most successful, because I’ve never been happier and frankly I’ve never been more successful.”
Although Hird completed his negotiations training through Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation, he likes to joke that his best negotiation lessons were learned at home.
“Everything I learned, I learned from negotiating with my daughter,” says Hird. “You need negotiating skills to negotiate with your kids, that’s for sure and I learned the hard way.”