The 5 “Knows” of Negotiation Prep

December 20, 2017

The Takeaway: Dealing with negotiation or conflict? Preparation is key.

Spoiler: The 5 “Knows” are market, audience, team, issue, and patience! Know these things, and you’re on the right track.

You’ve probably heard a lot of people say that effective negotiators need to be prepared. What does that mean exactly? Is it a scripted role play? Is it getting ready for a lose-lose, meet-in-the-middle haggle? Follow the 5 “knows” of negotiation prep to get your mind right and focus you in the right direction.

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1) Know the Market

Just before Thanksgiving, I gave a presentation to two high school classes of Business Management and Accounting students. I asked who had a job, and one girl foolishly raised her hand. I don’t remember exactly, but I think she worked at a fast food joint or coffee shop or something.

Me: “So, of course, you being an expert negotiator, you must be making around $25 per hour, right?”

Class: *Laughter*

Girl: “No, not exactly.”

I said this, of course, to illustrate my point: you have to know the market before you head to the bargaining table. If every other high-school kid in a similar job is making between, say, $7-$9 per hour, you can be an expert negotiator, and you aren’t going to hit your $30 per hour goal. However, with some careful research and sound techniques, you can probably get to the higher end of the “market” range and maybe even a little beyond.

The interesting thing about negotiation is that the process works pretty well across different industries. However– the numbers, the research, the facts– they all change. Presumably, you’re a negotiator in your field, and that’s why you’re reading this. No, you don’t have to do all the research yourself, but you should know the market well enough to understand the research. Let someone else compile the data for you, but ultimately, you’ll need to be the one to synthesize it into a form you can draw on at the table.

2) Know your Audience

Your audience is different depending on the industry. When negotiating workplace and labor issues , I pretty much knew who I had to deal with, since we all worked together. However, a salesman making cold walk ins might never know what he’s in for.

Here’s the point: no matter whether you’re working a cold audience or a warm one, there are techniques you can use to your advantage in a given situation.

For example, a man I know is very successful in the insurance industry. Essentially, he just sells insurance. But he presents himself as a trusted advisor and a subject matter expert. This lets him guide the customers to the right products for them. Nevermind that he collects a commission on the policies he sells. That’s a true “win-win,” isn’t it?

For the salesman trying to drum up leads, it’s true that you don’t know your audience in the traditional sense. Let’s think about what you do know. Most people don’t like being cold called; it makes them uncomfortable. From previous blog posts, we know that feelings of discomfort can create defensive reactions. As a collaborative professional, how do you manage those behaviors and influence them in a way that warms the lead up? Maybe you can use some techniques to develop a rapport, to build a relationship as a trusted advisor, rather than just a sales person.

Brainstorm about your audience and come up with some techniques to overcome the issues that you suspect you’ll encounter.

3)  Know your Team

Does your left hand know what your right hand is doing?

There’s nothing worse than getting to the table with (what you thought was) an understanding, only to have a teammate throw a curve ball. We all know “that guy.” Negotiating as a team involves a lot of moving pieces. Use what works for your situation, but just know that it bears discussing and planning ahead of time.

Some things to consider:

  • Who’s doing the talking? Do you have a person designated to talk or can anyone pipe up? Know who’s doing the talking ahead of time.
  • Who’s doing the listening? This is arguably the most important role. Negotiations are dynamic. As the talker, you’re mentally processing a lot. Someone needs to listen to pick up what you’re missing.
  • How to deal with intra-team conflict at the table? Maybe develop the “caucus cough” or something. Whatever the case, if you think things are derailing, you need to let your team know, but don’t outright contradict yourselves in the middle of talks.

4) Know the Issue

It’s not just dollars and cents. Firstly, there are interests underlying positions. When someone says he wants a $1,000 for an old painting, there’s a reason for that. The thousand bucks is his position. The reason? That’s his interest.

Perhaps you can fulfill that interest using something other than dollars and cents. For example, perhaps a part of the $1,000 represents sentimental value to the seller. If you can figure that out, maybe you can get it for substantially less, when you reveal your plans to donate the painting to your church where people will see it every week.

The person isn’t the problem. The situation is the problem. Frame the issue to capture both of your interests.

How do you prepare for this, though? First thing’s first: get your mind right. The person isn’t the problem, the conflict is the problem. Second, in your dealings with this person, did he reveal any information that gives you a little window into his motivations? Thirdly, don’t put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes. You and he are different, after all. Rather, put yourself in your counterpart’s head. Think like he thinks.

Now brainstorm away, and figure out some ways to frame the conversation collaboratively.

5) Know Patience

P.S. At any given point, you might come into some more intel. You might need to caucus or call it quits for the day to discuss with your team and advisors. We all want to get negotiations done and over so we can move on. BUT remember that a bad deal or a resentful deal will lead to poor performance (maybe even breach) on the negotiated terms. So be patient. Give yourself time to prepare and time to re-prepare if necessary.

That’s all, folks. Feedback? I welcome comments, both public and private.

To loyal followers, thank you so much for your continued support. I only ask that you pick a valuable post and share it with a friend or colleague that might also find it useful.

To new readers, welcome! WDR and similar companies are the future of dispute resolution using a productive conflict management model. Why spend the money on costly disputes and legal fees when you can mold your workplace relationships to avoid those issues?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Everyone. Thanks for reading!

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