Jeanette Nyden: Helping Non-lawyers Negotiate Complex Contracts with Accuracy, Nuance, and Confidence

Jeanette Nyden | Negotiation Expert | Nyden On Negotiation
Jeanette Nyden | Negotiation Expert | Nyden On Negotiation

With a straightforward approach to teaching non-lawyers on both the buy and sell-side how to negotiate , Jeanette Nyden is making a significant difference in the business world.

As the Negotiation Expert at Nyden On Negotiation, Jeanette shares her talent to deliver best-in-class results to her clients. To further her commitment to enhancing customer/supplier relationships, one contract at a time, she has devoted her career to researching and writing about improving one’s negotiation skills. Each of her four books addresses topics to help supply chain professionals negotiate high-performing complex contracts.

We caught up with Jeanette and discussed her professional journey, training classes, and future goals.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

Like many of my clients, I never dreamed I’d support procurement. In law school, I wanted to be a hotshot litigator. The book A Time to Kill was published while I was working as an intern serving underprivileged people through the court system. I learned more about negotiating deals doing that work than anyone can imagine. I moved to Chicago and started negotiating business deals for debtor companies in bankruptcy court. That’s where my negotiation skills shined. After a few years, a client told me that he wished I could teach his team to do the same after successfully negotiating a business deal quickly, without all the drama he was accustomed to.

A light bulb went off, and my journey teaching non-lawyers how to negotiate complex contracts started. But, in those days, law schools did not teach business classes. So, I joined a peer mentoring group, Vistage™, and learned from others more skilled at running a business than I was.

It was not just the lack of knowledge about running a company that challenged me. I adopted two kiddos from foster care 11 years ago. I put my negotiation skills to work at dinner, bath, and bedtime! I wrote three books during that time and got zero sleep. My passion for negotiating mutual gain agreements is so strong that I persevered. One daughter is now an adult, and my youngest lives at home. She is a world-class negotiator too!

Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.

My mission is to transform how non-lawyers negotiate complex contracts — from an adversarial to cooperative, or even a collaborative, approach by offering turn-key and customized learning programs.

I am both an attorney and a mediator. Those two roles use very different negotiation skills to reach their aim. I learned from my business clients that they wanted their non-legal team members to use the legal department less frequently to negotiate legal terms and conditions. What I understood as a mediator is that to be successful, those non-lawyer team members needed to broaden their negotiation toolkit to include cooperative and collaborative skills necessary to work out terms and conditions with the other company.

This is because the non-lawyers will work off and on with the other company over the contract term. An adversarial negotiation approach will undermine the relationship’s value. Therefore, my vision is to upskill contract negotiators by creating and providing best-in-class training, tools, and resources so that even non-lawyers can negotiate fair, balanced, and risk-free agreements for their organizations.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted the procurement niche through your expertise in the market.

I helped develop the most innovative approach to contracting in two decades. Through my collaboration with Kate Vitasek, a professor at the University of Tennessee, the Vested™ philosophy was distilled into an approachable guide to drafting and negotiating complex business agreements in our book The Vested Outsourcing Manual: A Guide for Creating Successful Business and Outsourcing Agreements. In our next book, Getting to We: Negotiating Agreements for Highly Collaborative Relationships, we proved that collaboration is good for business. Through our books and consulting projects, many companies have increased the value of their customer/supplier relationships. A few years ago, I co-authored another book, The Contract Professional’s Playbook: The Definitive Guide to Maximizing Value through Master of Performance-and Outcome-based Contracting to help further the new generation of procurement professionals negotiate complex contracts with accuracy, nuance, and confidence.

Procurement professionals are so often told to do more with less. People feel more confident negotiating complex agreements when they are trained. That confidence directly translates into more time to work on the deals that provide value rather than spinning their wheels on stalled deals. Procurement is doing more because they are empowered to do a better job. For example, a client went from being a self-conscious, average negotiator who had not negotiated large deals in her role to being promoted to manage a team of 3 in a nine-month timeframe after participating in my training class and working with me during negotiations for a very complex deal.

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.

My passion is to change the way people negotiate. I tell my clients that they cannot change the other negotiator. If I had the secret to changing other people, I’d be a multi-billionaire by teaching the world how to change other people! Rather, people can dramatically improve outcomes by changing the way they negotiate. All of my work, whether in negotiation playbooks, training programs, or books, gives people access to appropriate tools and techniques for the situation. By choosing the right techniques for the situation, people can influence people to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

Clients choose to work with my company because we partner with your company to deliver exactly what your team wants and needs to enhance their skill sets. By paying attention to contract details and understanding supply chain issues in general, the training programs provide people with the skills they need for their day-to-day duties. And, once people are empowered with techniques, tools, and a customized playbook, they are much more likely to use the techniques, tools, and playbook long after the training ends.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

Twenty years ago, when I started offering contract negotiation training courses, companies would bring me out to their sites for two or three days of in-person training. Today, I offer self-paced, online training programs delivered over a Learning Management System. Technology allows so many more people to access valuable, career-changing training programs all across the world. No need to travel.

No need to leave their tasks undone for days on end. Easy access to training in bite-sized learning segments also allows people more immediate access to the answer to their questions. Technology allows me to work directly with people worldwide, providing strategic advisory services over web conferencing platforms. And, in the not-too-distant future, people will increasingly use A.I. to negotiate with the other party.

What change would you like to bring to the procurement industry if given a chance?

I dream of the day that procurement contract professionals have the confidence and skills to negotiate cooperatively, if not collaboratively, with their organization’s strategic suppliers. Long gone are the days of procurement’s “golden rule,” which translated into the adversarial negotiation style of “if my company has the gold, then it makes all the rules.” The supply chain environment has changed, and procurement must adopt different skills to match the current reality. The skills procurement needs today are more facilitative, cooperative, and strategic. And, let’s face it, if procurement cannot move up the value chain to become a strategic partner, we’ll lose our proverbial seat at the table and risk being outsourced or automated out of existence.

What, according to you, could be the next significant change in the procurement sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?

The next significant change is negotiating with artificial intelligence. On my podcast, I recently interviewed Antonio Ancora, Adjunct-Lecturer in Negotiation Luxembourg Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management, about his college students’ experiences negotiating with artificial intelligence. Never fear; we will not see the wholesale replacement of procurement negotiators in the next year or two. However, what is currently being negotiated now and in the future is what one client called “the difficult and the ugly.”

These high-risk, high-value relationships offer out-of-the-box solutions that A.I. cannot yet be programmed to negotiate and likely never will. True supplier-driven innovation requires strategic, out-of-the-box conversations. People will still need to negotiate the terms of those relationships using data collected through A.I. I am sure that in my children’s lifetime, A.I. will have developed to the point that many of the contracts people negotiate today can and will be negotiated by A.I. programs to reach a satisfactory resolution.

Where do you envision yourself in the long run, and what are your future goals?

For 20 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to offer non-lawyers who are newer to negotiating complex contracts the tools, techniques, and skills they need to reach mutually beneficial agreements. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” The tools, skills, and techniques people need will change and evolve again and again as the supply change environment and the use of A.I. changes which, what, and how people negotiate contracts.

I look forward to another 20 years supporting procurement professionals’ lifelong learning journeys.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the procurement sector?

I always ask my clients if they grew up wanting to pursue a procurement career, negotiating contracts. Not too many people say, “yes, I did.” However, almost all the people I am fortunate enough to work with have happy, thriving careers because they are not just performing repetitive buys. They are helping to shape their organization’s future by developing mutually beneficial relationships with their organization’s strategic suppliers.

But, to have that happy, thriving career, people must learn new skills and be willing to change how they interact with internal stakeholders and suppliers to succeed. It is not a one-size-fits-all world anymore, but for those ready to embrace the skills necessary to move up the value chain, procurement can be a fantastic place to work.