Authentic Negotiating

The Pygmalion Effect: Part One

In any negotiation, we bring with us a certain set of expectations to the table. We expect each material point to be contentious. Traditional tactics have us prepared with all the classic manipulation tricks because we expect the same from our counterparts. We get caught in this inauthentic loop that often leaves both sides wondering what they really got out of the deal.

My authentic negotiating approach came about as a response to that absurd cycle. I knew deep down that deals could be more and compromise wasn’t a foregone conclusion. The foundational principles of clarity, detachment, and equilibrium make up our inner North Star when we’re at the table. With them, we stay focused on our objectives, avoid getting triggered by checking our egos, and remain in complete control throughout the negotiating process.

Like with most anything in life, just going through the motions of becoming an authentic negotiator won’t get it done. It’s not a method as much as it’s a new state of being. With that comes not just a change in our behaviors at the table, but the mindset that we carry with us.

I was working on a mid-market acquisition deal a few years back, and my client—we’ll call her Nancy—was being acquired by a larger marketing firm. It was a tough decision for her, but the deal had too much potential and the timing was right.

Once Nancy and I had agreed on that, I took her through the CDE steps, and she seemed to get it. From the start, she could clearly define her main objective—she wanted this acquisition to be more of a partnership and for the overall company she’d built to not change very much. With this bigger company’s resources, Nancy and her people could do the work they wanted. With the talent and expertise of Nancy and her team, the larger company could attract a market sector they’d struggled to attract in the past. It added up to a mutually beneficial deal, but it wasn’t long before Nancy revealed her deep skepticism.

While she kept relatively cool at the table, in our asides and breaks, Nancy voiced concerns that the company was negotiating in bad faith, that they just wanted her client list, that they had no intentions of holding up their end of the deal. At the same time, she didn’t want to walk away. After agreeing with our counterparts to break for the day and regroup tomorrow, Nancy and I talked about what was really holding her back.

Her expectations were way off. While I didn’t doubt the work she had done to get clear on her objectives, she was holding low expectations of the other party. Being crystal clear on what you want while being detached from the outcomes means that you should be coming to the table with high expectations of yourself, your outcome, and even your counterparts. When you know what you want and that you aren’t going to make a deal that doesn’t satisfy your objectives, there’s no reason to carry low expectations.

Although it is possible there was a basis for Nancy concerns, two things were true. First, I didn’t see the basis for these concerns – certainly not at the level held by Nancy. Second, it was clear to me that this filter of fear and low expectations existed for her from the start of the negotiation even before the other party said much. So, Nancy had convinced herself to expect the worst of her counterparts, to expect the worst of the deal she was going to get—and the ultimate endgame of that deal. It colored every aspect of the proposals that were coming from the other side. To her, the offer just kept getting worse and worse, even though my general feeling was that things were moving along as expected.

Nancy did not apply the Pygmalion Effect. In next week’s piece, I’ll unpack the Pygmalion Effect and its impact on how we negotiate. It’s an important underlying concept to my Authentic Negotiating approach, and once we understand its power, we can use it to improve ourselves and our results at the table. In the meantime, see how far along you are on the road to becoming an authentic negotiator. My quiz will give you the benchmarks you need to start improving: Authentic Negotiating Success Quiz

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

Authentic Conversations About Difference Authentic Leadership

You’re Approaching Your Business Relationships Wrong

What’s holding you back from making the most of your network?

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

-Maya Angelou

You probably read that quote and thought, Surely, a poet like Maya Angelou wasn’t talking about business relationships. You’d be right. She almost certainly wasn’t. Yet, I think within that thinking is the fundamental issue at the core of how we approach our business relationships. For whatever reason, we give ourselves permission to treat these relationships differently. We try to be different people to our business contacts than in our day-to-day lives; we compartmentalize them, and we have maladjusted expectations of ourselves and our counterparts in these relationships. All that adds up to an inauthentic relationship. Considering our business relationships have the power to shape our career and our long-term success and, thus, shape our lives, this is an issue that needs some focused attention.

I’ve written about how we can build better business relationships before. The subject is one of great importance to me. But sometimes we need to identify what we’re doing wrong before we can correctly implement the best practices I advise. So, what are you getting wrong?

You Botch the First Impression.

Our society puts a ton of weight into the first impression. For good reason, I think. In a world of gray areas, first impressions are refreshingly binary. If you’re not making a good first impression, you’ve made a bad one. Like Angelou said, when someone shows you who they are, we believe them the first time. But, that begs the questions, did you take care to show that person who you really are? In these pressure-packed first moments we go crazy trying to impress the person in front of us. Insincere charm, flashy spending, or even an old foe – mirroring, will all more than likely come off as fake and contrived to the person you’re trying to impress. And just like that, you’ve botched the first impression. The far better option is to be your authentic self. Show that person who you really are. Chances are good they’ll be impressed by your confidence and candor. Embracing authenticity is how we really make a good first impression.

You’re Compartmentalizing.

This is a symptom of “work-life balance” thinking. The idea is that our business should rightly remain separate from our personal lives if we’re to find fulfillment in both. To me, that’s a scarcity mindset that suggests one siphons positivity from the other and vice-versa. Now, imagine approaching your business relationships with this in mind. How could you even begin to give this relationship everything it needs to succeed? With this mindset, you can’t. That’s why I’m an advocate for work-life integration. I became an entrepreneur so that my work could fit into the life I wanted to lead. The same goes for the relationships we want to have. If we feel a push and pull between our personal relationships and our business relationships it means we’re keeping both at arm’s length. With an integrated approach, our business relationships become normal parts of our lives, like anything else. We can then enter into them fully and authentically.

You’re Engaging in Transactional Thinking.

This is our biggest downfall when it comes to how we build business relationships. Increasingly, we seem to have forgotten the simple virtue of being decent for the sake of being decent. There’s a line of thinking that questions the value of any relationship that doesn’t pay material dividends immediately or in the very near future. That’s a toxic mindset. Any authentic relationship must be built on complete trust. If you’re only giving this contact your time and attention because you want something from them, you’re creating a zero-sum context—if I don’t get what I want out of this relationship, this person has won, and I have lost. That’s fear, that’s ego, and that’s transactional thinking in the most cynical way possible. Instead, I always advise giving first, and then handing the relationship over to trust. Trust that you’re acting not out of expectation or selfishness, but because it’s good to give and to be of value to this person. Trust that the energy your actions put into the universe will come back to you and, eventually, the relationship will give you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.

We can get granular about the things we get wrong—the way we choose to speak, appearing aloof and disinterested, more concerned with our phones than the person in front of us, being anxious and neurotic—but, they are all, in some way or another, the result of one of the three business relationship pitfalls discussed above. If you want to learn more about how you can avoid these blunders and build better, authentic business relationships, check out my video: Building Authentic Business Relationships.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

Authentic Conversations About Difference

Removing the Anxiety from Your M&A Deal

An M&A deal is a huge project, regardless of the size of your business. Some companies shy away from the prospect of a merger or acquisition because it seems too daunting. They fear their ongoing business will grind to a halt, or that all their time and effort will be wasted when the deal inevitably falls through. These fears shouldn’t dissuade you from making a deal that can help you grow or sell your business.

I had a long-time client named Miguel who, after many years, had finally found a buyer for his business. Understandably, he wanted to be sure he got the perfect deal before selling. He came to me and said, “Corey, I’ve got a buyer for my company. I want to sell it, and I want to do it as a reverse triangular merger” (the buyer creates a subsidiary company and then merges it into the company they are acquiring). He seemed more sure of the structure of the deal if he did chose to sell than the decision to actually sell his company.

In another world, Miguel would have gone ahead with the reverse triangular merger unquestioned. But, my job was to lead Miguel to his objectives in the best way possible. So, I asked him, “Okay, Miguel, I’ve done reverse triangle mergers. No problem if that is the way we end up going, but why do you want to structure it that way?”

Miguel’s response was one I had heard before, “My friend did his deal as a reverse triangular merger; it worked out really well, and he saved a bunch of taxes.” Still, I stopped him and said, “That’s great for him—but his deal is not necessarily your deal. Why don’t we talk about where you are now, and then let’s talk about your objectives and where you want to be by the end of the deal? That will get you more comfortable with the decision of whether or not to sell and then we can decide on the best structure.”

And that’s what we did. As it happened, the reverse triangular merger wasn’t the best kind of deal for what Miguel wanted to achieve. In the end, the deal looked nothing like a reverse triangular merger, but, Miguel achieved all of his objectives, and happily sold his business.

Sometimes all it takes to go from hesitation to a profitable deal is gaining clarity on your objectives and your options. I’ve identified four things you can do as an owner that can help you lose the uncertainty of doing an M&A deal and set your business up for success.

Get clear on your objectives. From the overarching goals (are you a buyer or a seller?) to more minor line items in a deal, as the principle owner, you need to take the time to do the inner-work of identifying exactly what you want your deal to accomplish before moving forward. In the above example, Miguel wanted to do three things: receive fair value for his business, limit his tax exposure, and reach terms that would ensure the continuation of his business – that it wouldn’t be stripped for parts. Once we sat down and hashed out those terms, things got easier and Miguel become more comfortable with his decision to sell.

Find a strategic counterpart. You shouldn’t jump at the first buyer or the first seller that meets your acquisition needs. They might end up being the best fit, but drilling down on your strategic vision for the deal will help ensure that you find the right partner. This is especially important because an M&A deal isn’t always an exit scenario for an owner. In any deal, but especially if you will continue to be involved in the company post-deal, you need to be absolutely sure your counterpart is a perfect fit for your long-term goals, as well as a fit culturally.

Remember that due diligence will bring it all to bear. Whatever remaining questions or concerns you have should be answered during this process. While you’re deep into the M&A process at this point, it’s rare that an unconditional offer will have even been submitted much less a deal signed before completing an exhaustive due diligence period. Meaning, if your findings don’t leave you completely comfortable (regardless of which side of the deal you’re on), you can still walk away. This due diligence process will help clarify what you should be looking out for.

Stay detached from the outcome. Probably the most difficult and most important thing you can do for your M&A deal – especially if you’re a seller. With any deal like this, there’s going to be a lot of back and forth that might push some of your buttons. Even if the relationship to this point has been completely amicable, it’s still business and we’re all negotiating with our best outcomes at heart. If an offer doesn’t come close to the value you’ve got in mind for your business, don’t take it personally. You’ve done the work to get clear on your value and objectives – it’s on the other party to come to terms. As long as you stay detached from the outcome and are willing to accept that a deal might not get done, you’ll eventually land the deal that’s right for your business whether it is the one you are currently negotiating or not.

With global M&A trends on the rise, industry leaders are expecting the biggest year for deals in recent memory. Being prepared and approaching these big deals with a calm and cool mindset can make all the difference for your business. As an entrepreneur, I’ve made sure that at Kupfer & Associates, we’re bringing sharp business acumen to the M&A negotiation process – an approach that understands the needs and goals of today’s business owners. Let’s get M&A right.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

Authentic Conversations About Difference

When is the Right Time for Your M&A Deal?

Just because the forecast on M&A this year is promising doesn’t mean you can or should make a deal. Sometimes the market won’t align with your business cycle. If you are thinking of negotiating a sale of your business or a merger/acquisition this year, make sure the time is right for you, not just the industry at large.

When is the right time for an M&A deal? There’s no blueprint. For the most part, timing is case-by-case. That said, in my experience, there are similarities that one can point to and suggest that it could be high-time for a deal.

The life cycle of any business is relatively predictable, right? At least with small to medium-sized businesses, we have the founding/startup of the business, then rapid growth, followed by slower growth, a plateau, and then, eventually, the downturn. To identify when—in which phase—you want to seek a deal, you first need to identify your objectives. What I’d like to do next is explore the objectives that match up with each phase. The hope is that, by the end, you’re able to identify when you should look for a deal or, if you know you’re ready for a deal, what kind you should seek.


There aren’t many options for you at this point. It’s proving time. Unless you’re coming from a major shop, have a superb reputation in your industry, and are bringing with you a huge catalog of clients, you likely won’t find many buyers—assuming you want any buyer to begin with—and you likely lack the capital for any serious acquisition. Time to grind and build the value of your business.

Rapid growth

This is a tricky time. Things are on the upswing and it feels like it might never end. Still, you’ve got to take the long-view and be open to a deal. Test the waters. There’s a chance your business might be at peak value during this phase. It’s also likely when you’re feeling most prideful and optimistic about the company you created. If you find the right buyer—someone who will honor your vision and will preserve a lot of the critical aspects of your business—it might make long-term sense to sell right now, even if it feels unnecessary in the moment. Conversely, this might be a bad time for you to consider an acquisition. The process can be long and complicated. During this phase, your business needs your full attention as visionary and leader. Don’t lose that momentum unless you’ve identified a glaring need.

Slow Growth/Plateau

I consider this the “Goldilocks zone” of M&A. It’s when founders have the most clarity about their business’s value and place in the market. It’s also when founders have the most M&A options available to them. Your company’s value is probably still pretty close to its peak and, in a perfect world, you’ve reached the proverbial fork in the road. You have the assets and capital to consider an acquisition. Are you better positioned for an acquisition that leads to sales growth? Buy a competitor. You might be better positioned for market growth. Buy a complementary service. If you’re committed to continued growth, now is the time to buy and jumpstart growth again. If you feel like you’ve accomplished everything you wanted in creating this company, you can likely find a willing and suitable buyer.


It’s important to be realistic about your business. Perpetual growth is something enjoyed by exactly zero companies. Growth is never linear, and your business will inevitably head toward a valley after it’s time at peak. At this point, you have a choice to stay strong through the downturn and consider what’s next for your business—which likely means a growth-oriented acquisition. Truthfully, it’s at this phase when many founders choose to sell their business. There’s still great value to be had in selling, and knowing entrepreneurs the way I do, it’s likely you’re eager to get onto your next project rather than pushing through something that you feel has reached a positive conclusion. If that sounds like you, start seeking potential buyers that suit your exit plan.

These observations are more than just hypothetical. They’re based on my experience working on M&A deals with businesses of all sizes and values. For a closer look at the M&A work we do at Kupfer & Associates, check out our website: If you’re the owner of a privately held small-to mid-market business, the halfhearted attention you’re likely to receive from a mega-firm will make it difficult to achieve your M&A objectives and get the best deal for your business. Having a dedicated team that possesses the experience and wisdom of a major firm while being committed to making you a priority can make all the difference. You need the right negotiator and deal-maker on your side.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

Authentic Business Relationships Authentic Leadership

The Right (and Wrong) Way to Solicit on LinkedIn

I recently posted a simple question – and brief explanation – about how people handle LinkedIn connections who immediately solicit you. I must have touched a nerve, because it went a bit viral. You can check out the post here.

As you can see, it seems like I’ve happened upon something we all feel, something universal – we hate being sold to blindly. None of us like getting an immediate solicitation from a new LinkedIn connection. What’s more, the consensus in my comments was that such behavior was grounds for an immediate disconnection.

If that seems drastic, let’s take a look at an example of a bad solicitation I received recently:

This user’s name and other identifying information has been changed. Text, including the user’s typos, has remained unchanged.

Happy New Year Corey! I’m expand my network by connecting with other colleagues from LinkedIn Connection University. – Dr. Bad Solicitation

Mon Corey Kupfer sent the following message at 8:46 PM

Dr. Bad Solicitation, thank you for your connection request. I do not believe we know each other (please correct me if I am wrong). For me to consider connecting with someone I don’t know, I need to understand why you want to be connected with me and what triggered the request. Thanks, Corey

Dr. Bad Solicitation sent the following message at 8:49 PM

Corey Thank you for your email. Your bio precedes you. If you have or know of anyone 9 business or personal contacts ) who are in need of commercial or residential properties located in Florinecticut as per a Good Investment, feel free and confident to have them reach out to me. Thank you

Urgh! Dr. Bad Solicitation lives up to his fake name, right? There’s so much wrong with this approach. This connection didn’t even answer my reasonable request about why he chose to connect with me. Instead, he issued an inauthentic compliment about my bio and leapt immediately into his sales pitch. For Dr. Bad Solicitation, this is purely transactional. I don’t approach my business relationships that way. Disconnect.

So, what should Dr. Bad Solicitation have done differently? Let’s examine another connection I received recently. It also came with a solicitation, but the approach here is so much better. Here’s how Ben Value-Add approached me:

This user’s name and other identifying information has been changed.

Hi Corey,

I see we have some mutual connections.

I am always looking to grow my network of professionals here on LinkedIn. If you are open to that please accept.



9:29 AM

Ben Value-Add is now a connection

Mon Ben Value-Add sent the following message at 6:59 AM

It’s an honor to Connect!

I hope everything is well with you in your personal and professional life!

Here’s a document I pass out to all my new connections. It’s a summary of the growth strategies we use for our clients and ourselves. No strings attached. No opt-in. No cost 🙂

[There was a hyperlink to a .pdf here]

Here’s what we do at MyCompany:

He included a short, clear and strong mission statement here.

If you or someone you know has a bodacious dream and needs someone to capture that on film and let the world know about it – I’d love to talk!!

With thanks,

Ben Value-Add


Did you catch what Ben did there? Yes, this is still a pretty immediate solicitation, but Ben’s approach gets several things right. First, he’s not forcing the issue. He opens the request explaining that we have mutual connections, and then clearly explains his primary motivation for connecting – always growing his network. He closes the message by actually asking me to connect. It’s polite, professional, and respectful of boundaries.

Ben was off to a great start, but a bad solicitation—something baldly transactional—can squash that good will in an instant. Ben didn’t go there. Instead, Ben chose to give first. He asked nothing of me. He gave me a document that was, I must say, legitimately useful and filled with content that interested me. And, he made it clear that at no point would there be expectations of me doing business with him.

Now, I’m not considering using a service like Ben’s at this particular moment. However, I’m sure the time will come, and I won’t forget this interaction and Ben’s choice to give first. He clearly understands the value of building authentic business relationships. That kind of alignment shows me that he and I would, likely, work well together.

A transactional and exploitative approach, on the other hand, is a sure failure. It cheapens business relationships down to the simplest compliment. Look back at Dr. Bad Solicitation’s compliment. “Your bio precedes you,” seems so hollow and exploitative in the context created by his shallow solicitation. This is not how authentic business relationships are formed, and it’s a habit more of us need to break.

For an expanded take on how to build authentic business relationships, check out my blog or my video on the topic.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

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