The very first tip that I offer in my Top Ten Negotiation Tips is, “be prepared in advance”. But what does that look like?
Well, in addition to the more obvious fact-finding research required to be well prepared, there are also three essential questions that one needs to be asking before engaging in any negotiation:
- What do I hope to achieve as a result of this encounter?
- What can the other party realistically offer me?
- What can I do to encourage the other party to give me what I want?
What do I hope to achieve?
Many people enter negotiations with a long list of grievances, complaints, and perceived injustices. They are ready to “prove a point”, but have not thought through to the point of what they can actually obtain as a tangible improvement to their current situation. As I’ve stated elsewhere in this blog, there is no way to get what you want if you have not even identified what exactly that is.
What can the other party realistically offer me?
The starting point may lie in identifying what you want to achieve, but that initial goal may be meaningless if it falls outside the ability of your negotiating partners to offer it. For example, in nearly every case of an employment termination there is not going to be an offer of re-employment. Even in unionized workplaces where an arbitrator can actually order re-employment, it is often not the best outcome for a grievor. How pleasant is work life likely to be when one returns to work with the same people that spent months trying to terminate your employment? Or, for a different class of example, think about the ability of a mining company to completely “undo” a mining operation that has been in full swing for several years.
It is impossible to go back in time. In order to be successful at the negotiation table one needs to have a good idea of what the other party can actually put on the table. In the first example, the employer could conceivably offer enough money to provide income security while the ex-employee retrains for a new position – and could also pay for and provide the training. In the second example, the mining company could provide environmental remediation, relocation assistance, compensation, or perhaps a more generous share of the wealth created as a result of the mine.
What can I do to encourage the other party to give me what I want?
Clearly identifying what it is that you would like, and then identifying what lies within the realm of possibility for the other party to provide, is a good start. But the real key to successful negotiating is in convincing the other party that it is in their best interests to provide that to you. There are only two ways that this can occur.
- The alternative to helping you to achieve your goals, is sufficiently unpleasant that the other party believes that helping you is the best option.
- You can provide them with something of sufficient value to them, that they perceive your offering as a fair exchange.
The second option is nearly always the preferred one, as people are far more likely to be positively engaged when seeking a win/win outcome. However, the first option needs to be considered as well, and perhaps held in reserve. And if neither option appears tenable… it’s probably time to go back to question number 1, and start again.