Once again this week’s Apprentice revealed some hard and fundamental lessons about negotiating.

This week the theme of the whole programme was negotiating, as the teams were sent out to source and then negotiate to buy ten items on Lord Sugar’s shopping list.

The girls’ team found all 10 items and the boys only found 7, and so incurred financial penalties. Yet it was the boys who won, by paying the least for their items overall. So, what does that result and the way in which it was achieved tell us about negotiating?

The girls did a much better job of preparation, in the sense that they planned where to source all the items at the start of the day, and knew exactly what the definition of each item was. However, crucially they had no negotiating strategy for each item. Jamie for the boys at least instructed his team to start each negotiation by asking for a 70% discount from the quoted price. As most effective negotiators will tell you, normally the less you offer the less you end up having to pay. So, having this kind of hard bargaining approach at the outset was always going to stand the boys in good stead.

And so it proved, with the girls negotiating weakly for a singer sewing machine – “We were hoping to start off at £50 and work our way upwards”. They ended up at £57, whereas the boys ended up paying only £35. Similarly the girls started their bidding for the required Tartan at £50 and quickly went up to £69, whereas the boys did their deal at only £23. Finally the girls started their bidding for the truffle at a whopping £200, at least £100 too much.

Both sides made plenty of other mistakes. Neither side seemed keen to open the bidding, which often gets you a better result than letting the other side go first. Neither side focused at all on the needs of the other side. The boys also resorted to telling tall stories to support their bids. This is not recommended as in real life your opponents will usually spot this and your lack of integrity will then blow the climate of the negotiation.

However, in the Boardroom it was clear that the differentiator between the teams was that the boys had started lower and negotiated more ambitiously. The lesson is, when you are bidding, less is more…