Negotiation Strategies: Tips for Establishing Connection and Optimizing Results
Series: Part 6
We all negotiate, every day. It runs the gamut from the boardroom to the bedroom and everywhere in between. People try to win over their counterpart with reasoned arguments, pithy anecdotes, or just plain emotion. Career negotiators feel they do it fairly well, making fewer mistakes as they gain experience. But do they? For every bargaining session that turns out badly, do they conduct a postmortem to see what went wrong and why, or just continue to the next one, a little less cocky, a little humbler?
What follows is a brief analysis of four common mistakes negotiators make – mistakes that often spell the difference between a heartbreak and a handshake. The list is (1) assuming the other party’s financial or substantive position; (2) dealing with tough, bullying negotiators; (3) wasting valuable time dueling with the other party on the merits; (4) ignoring the other side’s position, motives, and interests in your counteroffer.
1. “Never Assume Because It Makes…”: We all know the feeling (and the end of that phrase). You and your counterparty have been tossing arguments back and forth and have now decided to resolve your differences face-to-face. Depending upon your position, you are painfully aware that the other side is either offering too little or demanding too much. In fact, as part of their last offer, the other side states that they are “getting close to their limit, and cannot offer much more.” If you change your strategy and start demanding less, you run the risk of making the following errors:
a. Inaccurate Assumptions and Missed Opportunities: Assuming the other side’s financial limits may be based on incomplete or inaccurate information. If you assume the other side has a lower financial limit than they actually do, you might settle for a less advantageous deal. Conversely, if you assume their limit is higher, you might miss out on opportunities to reach a mutually beneficial agreement at a lower price.
b. Closed-mindedness and Reduced Creativity: Assuming the other side’s financial limit can make your negotiation approach inflexible. You might present rigid, smaller demands, thinking you’re pushing the other side to their limits, while in reality, they have more room to maneuver. Also, the best negotiations involve finding creative solutions that go beyond mere financial limits. Assuming the other side’s limit might restrict your ability to explore innovative options valuable to both parties.
c. Unforeseen Circumstances: Financial situations can change quickly due to various factors, such as market fluctuations, new funding sources, or changes in priorities. Assuming a fixed financial limit might not account for these changes.
d. To avoid these errors, gather as much information as possible about the other side’s financial condition and history of negotiating tactics from trusted people in the business. As always, be open and curious about their non-financial needs, interests, and priorities. A more collaborative and flexible approach can lead to better outcomes for both parties.
2. “Toro, toro!”: Dealing with bullying negotiators is challenging, but it’s important to approach the problem with a clear strategy and a calm demeanor. Mistakes to avoid when dealing with bullying negotiators include:
a. Reacting Emotionally and Engaging in Power Struggles: Bullies use aggressive tactics to provoke an emotional response. If you react emotionally in anger, frustration, or fear, you will wind up on their playing field where they are the more experienced player. Don’t give them an upper hand. Stay composed and focused on the issues. I often say,” let’s be hard on the issues but not on the people.” If tough negotiators try to assert dominance and engage you in power struggles, don’t try to out-bully them. Focus on maintaining your own professionalism and communication skills.
b. Taking Their Behavior Personally and Losing Sight of Objectives: Taking their behavior personally will cloud your judgment and hinder your negotiation strategy. Don’t get sidetracked by the bully’s tactics and lose sight of your objectives. Clearly define your goals and stick to them, even if the bully tries to divert the conversation. Remember their bullying is not a reflection of your worth or capabilities.
c. Being Defensive and Escalating the Conflict: Bullying negotiators will try to put you on the defensive by attacking your ideas or proposals. Leave your defensiveness aside, responding instead with well-reasoned arguments and evidence to support your position. Responding to aggression with aggression will escalate the conflict to an unproductive standoff. Be calm and respectful to prevent things from getting worse.
d. Giving In Too Easily and Not Setting Boundaries: Some people give in to bullies just to end the confrontation, often resulting in unfavorable outcomes. Stick to your principles and negotiate based on the merits. While doing so, establish boundaries for acceptable behavior during the negotiation. If the bully crosses those boundaries, address it assertively and professionally.
e. Lack of Preparation and Isolating Yourself: Facing a bullying negotiator, especially for the first time, without proper preparation might leave you vulnerable. Research the issues, anticipate their tactics, and prepare counterarguments to bolster your position. And don’t hesitate to seek advice or support from colleagues, mentors, or professionals who have experience with difficult negotiations or these particular negotiators. Their insights will give you valuable strategies and perspectives.
f. Ignoring Alternatives and Failing to Walk Away: Bullying negotiators are often closed-minded or rigid. Be open to explore alternative solutions or compromises, even if they seem inflexible. Sometimes, the best option is to walk away if the bullying continues. Your willingness to end negotiations shows your resolve, and can lead to more respectful engagement in the future.
g. Remember, effective negotiation is about finding mutually beneficial solutions. While dealing with bullying negotiators can be tough, maintaining your professionalism and strategic approach will increase your chances of achieving a positive outcome.
3. Fighting A Losing Battle: Attempting to convince the other side that they are wrong on the merits is often a mistake for several reasons:
a. Ego and Pride/ Resistance and Polarization: People do not respond well to being told that they are wrong, especially in a negotiation. When negotiators focus on proving the other side wrong, it triggers defensiveness, hurts egos, and engenders hostility. Pushing the other side to admit they are wrong also leads to resistance and entrenchment. Remember, negotiations are about finding solutions, not proving one side right and the other wrong. If you don’t accept this premise, the problems noted above will escalate the conflict and hinder productive communication and collaboration, making it harder to reach a mutually beneficial resolution.
b. Loss of Trust and Rapport and Missed Opportunities: Successful negotiations are built on trust and rapport between parties. If one side tries to prove the other wrong, it erodes trust and damages the relationship. Building a positive working relationship is crucial for effective negotiation, as it creates an environment where parties can openly discuss their needs and concerns. Instead, if you focus on proving the other side wrong, the parties will become narrow-minded, fixating on their positions rather than exploring underlying interests and potential solutions. The result: missed opportunities for creative problem-solving and compromise that could benefit both parties.
c. Time and Energy Wasted and Neglected Common Ground: Spending time and energy trying to prove the other side wrong causes unproductive and circular arguments. Negotiations should focus on finding solutions, not getting caught up in debates over who is right or wrong. In effective negotiations, parties identify shared interests and common ground. When negotiators are preoccupied with proving the other side wrong, they overlook areas where both sides can collaborate and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
d. In sum, successful negotiations require a cooperative and problem-solving approach rather than a confrontational one. Focusing on the merits of each party’s position rather than trying to prove one side wrong can lead to more productive and mutually beneficial outcomes.
4. Head in the Sand: Ignoring the other side’s position, motives, and interests in your counteroffer can cause several negative outcomes and make your negotiation ineffective:
a. Missed Opportunities for Agreement and Relationship Strain: Negotiations are a two-way street. Failing to understand the other side’s position and interests may hide potential areas of agreement and compromise. Being blind to their perspective may cause you to inadvertently miss an opportunity to reach a mutually beneficial deal. Also, effective negotiations involve building and maintaining a positive working relationship. Ignoring the other side’s motives and interests creates a sense of disrespect and mistrust, damaging any rapport you’ve established. A strained relationship makes it harder to agree or collaborate in the future.
b. Suboptimal Solutions and Ineffective Communications: When you disregard the other side’s position and motives, your counteroffer doesn’t address their core concerns, leading to a suboptimal solution that fails to fully meet either party’s needs. Ignoring the other side’s perspective can hinder effective communication during the negotiation. To come to a resolution, both parties must clearly articulate their interests and listen to each other. Failing to acknowledge the other side’s position causes misunderstandings and breakdowns in communication.
c. Long-Term Consequences including Lost Credibility: Negotiations have long-term implications beyond the immediate deal. Ignoring the other side’s motives and interests could damage your reputation and credibility as a negotiator. Future negotiations may become more difficult, because parties are hesitant to engage in good faith since they perceive that their concerns are consistently disregarded. Negotiation is about building trust and credibility. If you ignore the other side’s position and interests, you appear self-centered and unwilling to engage in a fair and balanced discussion.
In conclusion, remember: to conduct effective negotiations, it’s crucial to adopt a collaborative approach, actively listen to the other side, seek to understand their motives and interests, and find common ground. In this way, you make it more likely to reach a satisfactory agreement that meets both parties’ needs and fosters a positive working relationship.