Good Negotiators – Think on Their Feet

Good Negotiators – Think on Their Feet

You can’t script negotiation. Whoever you’re dealing with may be as smart and determined (or as fallible) as you are, and you can’t dictate their agendas, perceptions or actions, so you need to be both proactive and responsive, depending on how the interaction goes. For example, let’s suppose that you want to nail down a service contract with a new customer. The opening might take different forms:

Version 1:

“Chris, we’re looking forward to partnering with you. Let’s figure out a deal that works well for both of us.”

Version 2:

“Chris, my colleagues have put you on the short list of possible providers for this contract.”

Version 3:

“We like your proposal, Chris, but you’ve got to come down on price to beat your competition.”

These three statements express varying degrees of enthusiasm about working with you, and they reflect different bargaining styles. Each would require a tailored response on your part.

Master negotiators understand the importance of agility and improvisation, but improvising is not making it up as you go along. It requires deliberate learning, adapting, and influencing as you negotiate. You’re exploring how best to engage your counterpart: should you offer carrots or wave a stick?

For example, you might make a concession as a gesture of goodwill in the hope that it will be reciprocated. If you’re right, the negotiation will go down one path but if it’s instead read as sign of weakness, you’ll be headed in a very different direction. You have to be ready for both possibilities and be alert for which one is emerging.

As General Eisenhower, the architect of the D-Day invasion in World War II, famously said, “Plans are worthless.” What’s often forgotten is that he added: “But planning is everything.”

Do you have some negotiating tips to share?

Adapted from an article by Michael Wheeler, Harvard Business Review

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