Several millennia ago, a woman confronted a general who had given orders to battle ram the gates of her city. The little-known city of Abel Beth-Maacah was harboring an enemy of King David. The ruthless general Joab would have killed anyone who got in his way, but a wise woman negotiates with the general and saves her city. Why was she successful? Because she was an amazing negotiator. We will use the lessons learned from her account in II Samuel 20 to learn how to negotiate effectively.
Tip One: How to Negotiate with Boldness
The wise woman of Abel Beth-maacah boldly asks for Joab while he is in the middle of trying to break down the city gates. Joab outranked her, was more important than her, and was certainly more powerful than she was. But she believed in the righteousness of her cause. She didn’t send a messenger to do it for her. She didn’t ask another man to approach Joab on her behalf. No, she was willing and ready to make the request on her own.
So when you need to negotiate for something that you believe is right, you must be bold about it. Whether in business or even Christian circles, do not let the leadership, even if it is male-dominated, deter you from asking for what you want if you believe it is the right thing. The Bible has various examples of women who had to approach male leadership to acquire what they wanted and needed, like the five daughters of Zelophehad. This wise woman of Abel displayed the same boldness.
Tip Two: Be Respectful and Humble
Although it seems that boldness and humility stand in juxtaposition to one another, it is possible to do both. This woman shows us how to negotiate perfectly by implementing both. When Joab finally comes to her, the first words she speaks are, “Listen to the words of your servant.” These words acknowledge his position of authority and in doing so, she is respectful in her tone. She also acknowledges her position vis-à-vis Joab and therefore shows humility. Boldness is the willingness to ask for what you need. Humility is being willing to acknowledge who the higher authorities are.
Showing respect and humility in any situation makes you likable and it is also biblical. Most people are willing to work with someone who is likable. If your tone is arrogant or rude, those you are trying to convince will make up their mind about your proposal before you even get a chance to present it.
Also, keep in mind that humility is not purposefully trying to sound uneducated or dumb to stroke someone’s ego. Even though the wise woman is humble, in the next tip we learn that she is very knowledgeable and uses it to her full advantage.
Tip Three: Know Your Stuff
Scholars believe that in the following phrase,
“They used to say in former times, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel,’ and so they settled a matter.”
that the woman was alluding to Deuteronomy 20:10-11.
This is from a section in Deuteronomy that outlines the laws concerning warfare. Specifically, in these two verses it is explained that if Israel was to draw near a city to fight against it, it must first offer the city a chance for peace. If the city refused, then they could besiege it.
In his pursuit of Sheba, Joab “forgot” this very important law. He was going to besiege the city without first offering terms of peace. The woman, however, knew and understood the laws concerning warfare and used that to gain the upper hand on Joab. Before proceeding to a negotiation, always know the subject matter inside and out.
Tip Four: Give Room for People to Save Face
What is very interesting about this woman’s technique is that she implied that Joab was in the wrong without actually saying it. Although there is a time and place to Biblically correct people, especially fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, in most day-to-day negotiations you need to allow room for people to save face.
Joab had been publicly corrected before and probably embarrassed by David when his command was taken from him. And yet, he ignored the King’s command and took his position back by killing the new general in cold blood. If the wise woman of Abel had been more direct and accusatory, I don’t believe the outcome would have been so amicable. He just did not seem to be the type of person who accepted correction or criticism easily. And most people are that way.
Some of the most successful negotiations that prevented nations from going to war were achieved because the opposing leader was saved from looking foolish or weak in front of his people. As a former Realtor, if I wanted to convince a seller to lower their price, I would have never used words to imply that their asking price was ridiculous or that their home was not worth it. In a similar way, if you believe the other’s side position is “wrong,” using words that would humiliate or openly criticize someone will most likely not get you what you want.
Tip Five: Seek to Understand What the Other Side Really Wants
The woman finishes her statement with a question. She allows Joab to explain why he is so anxious to destroy the city.
As a Realtor, I had to constantly negotiate prices and terms on various real estate sales. One of the key components of coming up with a proposal that was acceptable to both sides was truly understanding what each side wanted. Nine times out of ten, it was possible to negotiate something agreeable to both sides once I incorporated that into the equation. People often get fixated on their first idea for a solution (like Joab initially did), without taking the time to see that there are multiple methods to achieving what they truly want.
After the woman asks him what he wants, Joab explains to the woman that his desire is not to destroy the city. He just wants to capture Sheba. At some point, Joab himself realizes that he can achieve his goals and spare the city if the city is willing to hand over Sheba. Allowing Joab to express what he truly wanted, gave way to a solution that would work for both Joab and the woman.
With that information in hand, the woman was able to go back to the people of the city with the final proposal. The city agreed, and they cut off Sheba’s head and threw it over the wall for Joab. The outcome? The city was spared.
Negotiation is an art that can be used in many circles. So whether you are in business, the non-profit sector or you are a mom negotiating with the PTO–remember what we learned about how to negotiate from this wise woman.
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