Style Versus Substance

Last week I delivered a presentation to a group of very successful business owners and tried to impart on them some negotiation skills that they could use in their businesses. Whenever I deliver presentations to business owners, most owners intuitively ‘get it’. That’s because many of them have hustled to get to the spot where they are.

Unfortunately, what sometimes ends up happening is that someone in a group says something like, “What you’re teaching just doesn’t fit with my negotiation style. I don’t agree with that technique, it’s too aggressive.” or “I don’t do that, I expect that the people I negotiate will be rational.”

And so naturally, being the inquisitive person that I am, I ask them to negotiate with me to illustrate the negotiation style to see if I can fit what I’m teaching to their style. What usually ends up happening is that negotiation doesn’t go very far, because their style has no substance (no tools/skill set to support the style).

I think a lot of people get confused between style and substance. Style is how you deliver something. Substance is what you deliver. The tools and techniques to a robust negotiation practice (substance) can be delivered many different ways (style). But, without a good foundational skill set in negotiation, style remains empty and very little gets accomplished.

This may make a few people angry, but, I believe that until you get good at delivering the fundamental techniques of negotiation, forget about style.

You need to learn to color in the lines before you paint the Mona Lisa.

Someone in one of my classes once said, “I never ask for more than I expect to get, that’s just not my style.” Confused, I asked, “Please expand on that.” They then followed and said, “I offer a fair price for my services and don’t negotiate. The price is the price. I expect that the people I do business with will be fair in their approach and we’ll come to an agreement.” Blown away, I then explained 4 reasons why they should always be asking for more than they expect to get and how it would benefit his organization and how sometimes, negotiation isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t seem to get my message across, but reflecting on it now, I think it’s because he had a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between style and substance. He was closing off his mind to adding substance, thinking that it would affect his style.

The tools and techniques to a robust negotiation practice (substance) can be delivered many different ways (style). Don’t close off your learning of a new skill because you don’t think it fits within your ‘style’. By doing so you handicap your ability to grow.