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Ben Franklin’s Masterful Negotiation Lessons – Part II

Notes on Negotiation

Written by Marty Latz, Latz Negotiation Institute

Founding Father George Washington has his famous cherry tree story about his honesty (which ironically was untrue). But Founding Father Benjamin Franklin has a real story about his very own mulberry tree behind his Philadelphia house – and it relates to his effective negotiation skills.

In last week’s column, I identified two of Franklin’s brilliant negotiation strategies: the power of passion and the role of a sincere apology. Here are two more.

1. Informal socializing and rapport-building can build bridges

As noted in Ken Burns’ excellent PBS documentary Benjamin Franklin “An American,” our founding fathers reached an impasse that threatened to derail the Constitutional Convention relating to the apportionment of members in congress.

The small states wanted to keep the Articles of Confederation policy giving each state equal representation. But the large states wanted representation based on population. Without a solution, there would never have been a constitution.

What did Franklin do, as part of the committee charged with negotiating a workable agreement? He invited important delegates to his home to socialize in his backyard under his mulberry tree.

A very social person himself, Franklin understood the crucial need of the delegates to interact in an informal environment, enjoy refreshments and break bread, and explore their possible common ground in a comfortable environment.

As Franklin biographer Walter Isaacson noted, “they discussed science, they discussed the things they were talking about that they have to compromise on, and [Franklin] helps cool the passions of that hot summer under the shade of his mulberry tree.”

What else did Franklin do that led to their final agreement?

2. The critical need to compromise

Franklin gave a powerful speech at the convention, according to Isaacson, in which he related a story and said:

“when we were young tradesmen here in Philadelphia, and we had a joint of wood that didn’t quite fit, we’d take a little from one side and shave from the other until we had a joint that would hold together for centuries.”

Franklin’s point, according to Isaacson, was that “compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies.”

Rarely will successful negotiations end with an agreement in which everyone gets everything they want. Franklin thus strongly urged the delegates to forge ahead, even though it required their concessions on major issues.

Latz’s Lesson:  Franklin knew that informal socializing, rapport-building, and compromising form invaluable elements in almost all challenging negotiations. __________________________

Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute, a national negotiation training and consulting company, and ExpertNegotiator, a Web-based software company that helps managers and negotiators more effectively negotiate and implement best practices based on the experts' proven research.  He is also the author of Gain the Edge! Negotiating to Get What You Want (St. Martin’s Press 2004). He can be reached at 480-951-3222 or

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