How To Negotiate a Complex or Critical Issue
At some point in your business career you are going to be sitting across the table from someone from whom you want something important: either for yourself or for your company. Sitting across from you will be someone doing the exact same thing. They may be from across the street or from across an ocean. The issues will usually not be as simple as trying to negotiate a better price on a used car or a lap top computer. Although, most of the methods needed can be applied to these negotiations as well. The following points are intended for serious negotiations tied to complex issues and affecting long-term business outcomes.
1. Do You Homework
What your Mother and the Boy Scouts have been telling you for years is correct. Be prepared and do the work. This isn't stand up comedy so don't try to "wing it." Learn all you can about the business, culture, thinking and personalities on the other side of the table. What you don't know when you sit down the other side will.
2. Be able to say NO - but only say it once
The "NO" here is simply that line which you and your company can not/will not cross regardless of any motivation. It is the proverbial line in the sand - the NO Line. Knowing this and being committed to it will protect you from being led down the rosy path to a place that will ultimately sour the final agreement. Once you know where you can't go you are free to go everywhere else. And seeking places that both parties can venture to together is the purpose of negotiations. So, once you know your NO you are in an excellent position to say YES a lot more. This will be needed as you read on.
3. Write Up a Detailed List of What You Need/Want - Then Throw It Away.
Probably more negotiations have failed because one side or the other couldn't check off the items on their want list than any other reason. Forget about the list. You know what you need. The key question is: Does the other side know what you need/want? This is where you hope they have done their homework. But if you spend your time informing the other side what you want/need you are going to be missing some pretty critical information - what they need/want!
4. The Only Thing You Need to Know Is What They Need
The most important piece of information you will ever possess in a negotiation is what the other side needs/wants. The second most important piece of information you will ever possess is a plan for them to get what they need/want. Because if you can get them what they need/want they will knock themselves out insuring that you get what you need/want so that their "good vibrations" just keep coming their way. Ask and find the answer to this most basic and important question: What do they want/need?
5. There is a saying in international business negotiations. "He who talks loudest and last loses." It is true because it is based upon a critical flaw in human nature. When you are talking you are not listening - really listening. Being quiet is a very powerful negotiating weapon. Silence is not only golden it is okay. You don't need to fill every quiet moment in a conversation or negotiation. Trying to fill that "awkward" silence with off the cuff remarks or unscripted proposals is the same as letting the other side sit in on your pre-meeting strategy sessions. You are giving away information that they didn't earn. So, when in doubt listen.
6. Invest the Time Needed To Make a Good Agreement
The key word here is "invest." To reach an important agreement, it is necessary to invest in it. Don't come into a negotiation with false time lines and cliche thoughts like "windows of opportunities." No one is suggestion that time is not important. That is why you should invest the time and not simply spend the time making a good agreement. But time is not money. Time is time and money is money. They are two different tools and each must be used properly and in the correct amount.
7. When You Are Not Talking Business - Don't
In any negotiation there will be periods of time when the participants are not actually talking business. This might be during a coffee break or while playing golf away from the meetings. During these times don't talk business. Instead, use the time to study and understand the nature and personality of the other side. In negotiations, like playing Poker, there are "tells." These are the human actions which reflect what the persons is thinking or how they react to a stimulus. If your golfing partner from the other side gives you a three foot downhill put then you know something pretty important about them and about how they view you. If they scream at their putter every time they miss a put, they will be screaming at you at some point in your business relationship.
8. Don't Ever Confuse Politeness with Weakness
There is an unfortunate tendency by too many business people to equate business with war. Nothing could be further from the truth. The correct metaphor is that business is like an old folks home. Nothing gets done without everybody helping one another. Treating people with politeness, respect and consideration should not - and does not - indicate a weakness of nature or of position. As the Japanese discovered a long time ago, being polite is an excellent tool for keeping people exactly where you want them. Remember, you are a negotiator not a Ninja.
9. If You Didn't Need/Want Something Why Are You Meeting?
The sole purpose of negotiations is for two sides to both get what they want. While it is often not possible for both sides to get everything they want, it would actually be a completely successful negotiation if they did. If you can create an environment in which both sides are aware of and receptive to the needs/wants of the other side then there is an excellent chance that a good agreement can and will be reached. Never forget the expression "Negotiate in Good Faith." It means that both parties entered the negotiations with the intentions of reaching an mutual agreement that is not based upon causing damage to one of the parties.
10. If It Were Easy Everybody Would Be Doing It
It isn't easy preparing for and executing a successful negotiations about a complex or critical issue. It isn't easy listening and thinking about what the other side is trying to say. It isn't easy to stay on track when the other side wanders or interjects personal arguments or even attacks. It isn't easy to have to say "no" if the negotiations reach your NO Line which usually always happens late in the negotiations after you have invested a considerable amount of time, money and energy. It isn't meant to be easy. It is meant to be successful. Simply stated the more you put into it the more you are going to get out of it. Now, go negotiate.