17 July 2015

Rethinking negotiation

Everyone who negotiates for a living will at some point experience "deal hell" - that point when you’re still way off agreement; you’re running out of time and haven’t slept in days; and you’re actually really unhappy that the vending machine has given up serving coffee that tastes like vegetable soup.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve experienced deal hell many more times than anyone ever should. It’s not fun and, despite its corporate billing, it’s neither big nor clever, because it is avoidable.

Negotiations need careful advance planning. Almost always, too little time is allowed. But process is not the real issue, albeit absolutely necessary.

Deal hell only arises when people don’t know how to negotiate.

Unfortunately, it seems many people don’t know how to negotiate.

Negotiation is discussion aimed at reaching agreement. We all know that’s why we’re in the room. Yet many people assume compromise is a weakness and behave accordingly.

“The ‘other side’ are not to be trusted. They will take from us. We must hold our position. We must ‘win’.”

But isn’t it a certainty that you won’t reach agreement unless everyone benefits? So why waste a whole load of valuable time and energy in a circuitous journey to this inevitable destination?

Instead, from the outset, why not put yourselves in the other party’s shoes and submit proposals you’d agree if you were them?
Why not reject the hardballers who advise a tough opening position and negotiating back only if necessary, to fool them you’re compromising? Aren’t you picking a fight you simply don’t need, and almost certainly damaging the relationships you’ll need in the very near future?

If you’re proposing contract terms, why not make them balanced, fair and reasonable from the off?

If you can’t honestly say you’d sign them in their shoes, how can you possibly expect they will? Perhaps by some miraculous sleight of your hand or their childlike innocence? If only life were so simple.

You will always end up in a mutual compromise.

But if you start with a compromise will they still negotiate back? Very probably. After all, many people don’t know how to negotiate. Many people won’t take the good deal on the table, and will ask for more. But actually, so what?

If you’re asked to make concessions, why not try to agree them unless they’re genuinely unreasonable from their perspective? Would you make the same requests?

If you really can’t agree them, why not try to figure out where you can go that might still give them what they need?

If their requests are clearly unreasonable, you can always push them back, explaining why, in their position, you wouldn’t seek them yourselves. Maybe they’re not actually required.  Maybe they’re materially detrimental to your interests, making the deal untenable.

Have you asked them to also consider your perspective and the need for mutual benefit?

And what if a deal can’t be done? What if the other party won’t compromise?

Only the very toughest negotiators never blink. They’ve been tasked with reaching agreement. If a deal can’t be done, they’ve failed.

The only solution lies in the middle ground.
The best deal is not one that favours one party’s interests over the other. One way or another, that deal will fail, as the "loser" always seeks to redress the balance later on.

The best deal works for both parties.

If the other side of the table hasn’t figured that out yet, maybe you’re sitting at the wrong table?

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