Cody Bjugan is a veteran land developer, entrepreneur and investor. Mentor of leading land acquisition coaching program, VestRight.

After two decades in the land development business, here’s one thing I know for sure: Egos can derail even the most promising deals.

Early in my career, I had a zero-sum mindset, believing there was a winner and loser in every negotiation or business deal, but I quickly realized this was the wrong approach. Instead, successful deals need to be collaborative rather than one party vs. another, and all parties have to get something they want. In my experience, building this type of deal starts with keeping ego away from the negotiation table and looking for the wins.

Focus on relationship-building.

Unchecked ego is the corporate equivalent of a steering wheel that only turns left. Negotiations go off the rails fast when one side gets stubborn and refuses to budge on other potential or creative solutions.

One of the best ways to keep ego from derailing a business deal is to start off with the mindset of “What will it take to get everyone on board?” not “How do I win?” The reality is there will always be multiple agendas at play. So, how do you actually get everyone’s buy-in? The key is figuring out the “hot button” issues—each party’s core needs and wants. Only by understanding everyone’s hot buttons can you build a deal with something in it for everyone.

Developing these relationships requires listening—a crucial but often ignored step. Think of trust as the bridge between two parties, with listening as the foundation. Once people feel you genuinely hear them out and value their perspective, that’s when real trust gets built. With trust established, now you can truly collaborate. And, in my opinion, there is no better sales tool than trust.

Prioritize flexibility and creative problem-solving.

Understanding what all the hot buttons are is crucial in order to gain the 30,000-foot view of what needs to be included in the deal for everyone to experience a win-win outcome. The next step is to figure out how to build it without letting one party’s agenda or hot buttons dominate the deal. And this is where creative problem-solving enters the picture.

The key mindset you need to embrace? Don’t get locked into one way of thinking. There are always multiple paths to achieve a successful deal. Get creative, explore different angles and stay flexible. You can find the right opportunities if you’re willing to look beyond the obvious solutions.

One of our recent development projects illustrates how innovative thinking can save a deal. An existing neighborhood was adjacent to the land of one of our landowner clients who was preparing to build hundreds of single-family homes. Neighbors whose homes bordered the shared property line loudly voiced their opposition to the loss of green space and the open views. We could have proceeded with the original plan developed with the jurisdiction, but the opposition to the project may have reached a point where they wouldn’t have granted the project development approval. Instead, we listened and came up with a solution: build fewer lots along the property line to increase the viewing area between the homes. We knew we could gain the agreed-upon density elsewhere in the project, so we pivoted and found a way to address the neighbor’s concerns and keep the project moving forward.

Focus on long-term impact over short-term gain.

One of the best ways to minimize the impact of ego is to focus on the long-term impact of the deal rather than short-term individual gains. While addressing each party’s hot buttons is crucial, articulating the larger impact is essential for getting all parties rowing in the same direction. When you shift the focus from individual wants to the broader benefits for the community, true growth and win-win outcomes come to fruition.

As part of several land development projects, my company has contributed to creating vibrant parks, dedicated green spaces and improved infrastructure. Our guiding principle is PIF—purpose, impact, fulfillment—and it helps us maintain focus on our long-term impact. This lens reminds us of our “why,” which is that we aim to develop land into neighborhoods that help solve the nation’s housing shortage, bring communities’ visions to life and grow the legacy of our landowners. When we can share this perspective with our partners—landowners, jurisdictions and the home builders of America—it becomes much easier for everyone to put their egos aside and work toward a shared vision of positively impacting the community.

Managing outsized egos while building a deal requires an intentional, strategic approach. The key is to actively listen and build trust so you can identify the hot buttons and then incorporate solutions within the larger vision. By doing so, you can create deals that lead to win-win outcomes for everyone involved.

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