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Building Business

Building Business

Self Taught MBA: Learning to Walk Again: Life Lessons From a Professional Negotiator

comments (0) December 7th, 2012 in Blogs
FPR Fernando Pages Ruiz, contributor

Mike Walker teaches negotiation skills seminars through the Real Estate Negotiation Institute, a nationally accredited training and coaching company. He learned his skills the best way, the hard way. Click To Enlarge

Mike Walker teaches negotiation skills seminars through the Real Estate Negotiation Institute, a nationally accredited training and coaching company. He learned his skills the best way, the hard way. 

"This new company was a go-go operation, we had no systems, almost no policies, we played hard, we went to bars and restaurants and we did deals. At the time, it was easy. New homes were moving quickly. I learned the pizzas-and-jazz, street-smart mentality and flashy cars, all of which fit me at the time. I was awarded the Rookie of the Year award from the local real-estate board. I made quick money, and soon went from sales to investment, and I started to buy homes to flip. I learned to raise money and that was the biggest part-the fuel for my rise and downfall."

As real estate collapsed, Mike found himself negotiating continually, not to close deals but rather to save what he could of a sinking ship, negotiating deeds in lieu, trying to avoid foreclosures, and in the end, negotiating with the toughest creditor of all, the IRS.

"It was during this period that I got deeper and deeper into psychology and the science of negotiation. I needed to know how things like this happen, how we get exuberant and overleveraged, and how to avoid the same mistakes again," Mike said. This eventually lead him back to what he had unwittingly learned in that first job: the boring skills he learned at the stodgy, process and data-driven real-estate firm, which is still in business today. 

Eventually, Mike regained entrepreneurial spirit. Three years ago, he raised the money to buy a small janitorial franchise, build it up, and then recently sold it at a profit. He started teaching real-estate classes for extra money, creating the "Rookie's Clubs," charging $40 for six weeks of real-estate education. Word got out that his classes were popular, and in time, a respected senior Realtor attended his class and told Mike, "This is your calling. Stick to it." And he did.

Today, Mike teaches negotiation classes in 14 cities from Florida to California, and he has developed a huge contact database. He tracks every transaction and focuses on developing his business using sound policies and procedures. Given his success at renegotiating his own life and even the debt with the IRS, I asked him to tell us the three most important principles he's learned about the skill of negotiation.

Three principles:

1. Start by analyzing your own preconceptions: "When you realize that the way you perceive situations is mainly a mirrored image of your experiences, you begin to wonder if anything you see is objectively real. When you finally get to a point of truth with your personal reality, you have no other choice than to ask questions….and asking questions is a key characteristic to being a great negotiator."

2. Think like Detective Colombo: Keeping a negotiation journal can go a long way to help you decipher the clues in the give and take of negotiations. Write down your thoughts, and reconstruct your conversations. Study them, and see how they inform your strategy. This simple habit will allow you to see things that you would have otherwise overlooked.

3. Communicate the old fashioned way: Even the best-written communicators know that nothing beats the face-to-face exchange of information. Give yourself the opportunity to meet and interact with people. Hiding behind social fears, media, and technology, such as email, often leads to misinterpretations, lack of trust, or even worse. Pick up the phone, or meet in person.

Mike's writing a book about his experiences of the collapse of the industry. "I'm interested in deconstructing ambition, why we upsize beyond a reasonable level of success, what we sacrifice in the process, and what we rediscover on the way back down," he says. Mike wants to keep these lessons in mind, as he's clearly on the way up again. When he finishes the book, we'll have him back for a second installment.  


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