“Negoti-eight principles?”

“8” principles on how to be properly prepared, preferably before you start!

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Bruce Macmillan on 20/06/17

Discussing negotiations with several people recently lead me to thinking about what the key general principles are that increase the likelihood of having a successful negotiation with an enduringly acceptable outcome for both parties. There are always special circumstance and situations where different rules seem to apply (such, it would appear, as the Brexit negotiations).

However, in more normal circumstances …this is my starter for “8” principles on how to be properly prepared, preferably before you start (!); to negotiate – comments and suggestions greatly appreciated!

1: understand the desired and the acceptable range of outcomes for your side on everything that matters for everyone who matters;

2: analyse and make informed guesses as best you can about the desired and the acceptable range of outcomes for the other side on everything that matters for everyone who matters – bearing in mind that it may not be just the people or organisations immediately in front of you whose needs will influence the decision making but also those “behind”: lenders, shareholders, partners etc.

It is important to remember in respect of the first two points, especially in resolving a dispute, that the stated issues are normally not the only issues, nor even, necessarily, the most important issues to either side. They may just be the simplest to articulate or the most impressive sounding. Realising this can sometimes make major gains emerge from apparently trivial trade-offs;

3: assess whether there is likely to be a “zone of overlap” so that both sides can achieve an “at least acceptable” outcome on all points that matter and ideally that each side gets a few “desired outcomes” too so that the pain of the inevitable compromises elsewhere are softened. If there is no likely “zone of overlap” then there is also likely to be no deal – so what is the point in negotiating?

4: ensure that you have the right resources for the negotiation in terms, not just of numbers of similarly prioritised and correctly technically skilled people. but also in terms of disposition, emotional intelligence and empathetic fit with the other side as good, lasting deals require patience, common understanding and also some emotional bond and goodwill to overcome misunderstandings.

5: understand the approach to governance on both sides. Make sure that you know what is needed to secure a definite deal in the room and not just a provisional one which needs further approvals elsewhere.  It will be hard to make meaningful progress if both sides have (or claim to have) to escalate outside of the room to get an approval (especially if multiple external people are involved) - you might get tricked into giving away more than you intended for less than you should.

6: get properly mandated for what you can anticipate – so that anything in the “zone of overlap” is within your authority so that, subject to principle 5, you can seize the moment in the room if you need to and build trust with the other side that what you say actually means something. Have the right people immediately available for instant decisions on things that are outside of your mandate.

7: get the context right - negotiations are hard at the best of times. So try not to create extra problems for yourself – like real deadlines that are tight, are known about and which matter; outspoken commentary; or offensively aggressive positions taken ahead of time that become hard to back down from without loss of face on your side - but which you need to be seen to back down from, from the other side’s perspective, for the same reason.

Also, try not to box in individuals within the other side (or the other side as whole) too much as people who feel that they can make a choice are more likely to do so and stick with it whereas cornered people can become emotional, irrational or fight back and do not always stick to a deal struck under duress after they are back out of the corner.

8: successful, long terms deals tend to arise when both sides feel better off (or, at least, less worse off) than they are now – otherwise why change the status quo? Who would choose to be worse off than they are now? As all contracts are about both sides losing something of less worth to them in return for gaining something of more worth to them; it helps if each side feels that they have done fractionally better than the other – but not so much that this subsequently becomes an issue and the deal breaks down.
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