Home > The Monday Musings Column > on negotiation, part two

on negotiation, part two

One of the early lessons that I grasped in my management career was that you always needed to know what would happen if you did nothing. It may sound odd to an outsider, but a manager is always under pressure to do better and that requires change to some, or greater, degree and to do that you need to know what will happen if you do nothing.
When you go into a negotiation you also need be aware of what will happen if you fail to reach a deal. You will have your desired outcome, your concessions, your drop-dead option, your giveaways and your deal breakers and have a plan to work to. You will have all the intelligence that you can muster on the opposition and, once in the room, have your radar on as you probe and respond to their probes in return.
To look at each of those parts of your plan, often called a negotiation strategy when it is really your tactical plan; the desired outcome is just that, the deal that gives you all that you want. Concessions are what you can move on around the things that are on the agenda (or in the deal as it stands) and giveaways (also known as straw issues) are extra things that you could offer as sweeteners to help you to a final deal. Deal breakers are the things that you can’t move on, or cannot move beyond a certain point on and these are the things that usually bring deadlock.
Deadlock may be reached more than once, especially in negotiations with trade unions where an element of theatre is essential because every union member wants to believe that blood was shed getting to the deal and, to some degree, so do the stakeholders on the employer’s side. Such games are mostly unnecessary in terms of the pure negotiation, but making it look like a fight is part of the power game and even causing a strike might be on the employer’s agenda: I was told once by the former finance director of one of those manufacturing giants that were household names in the sixties and seventies that they would happily cause a walk out to help run down stocks of finished product or where an upcoming shortage of raw material was going to cause a lay off anyway.
But a staged walk out with the intention of resuming talks in a day or so is not the No Deal option, it is just another tactic. To walk away saying that the deal is off is very different and although it is rare there are times when you must do it, but you only ever play that card when you are sure of the consequences.
Everything that you take into a negotiation with you has consequences and that is why you don’t want to show your hand too early, especially in hostile negotiations. As a result you might well have some of your giveaways on the agenda so that you can pretend to fight over them. In similar vein you will keep your deal breakers in the background. You have your cards and need to play the in the best way and you will not know what that is until the time comes so it is important as you plan your tactics to understand what the possible consequences are for each card, remembering that these may change depending on what else come up and what cards the other party plays. The key thing in any negotiation is not to paint yourself into the corner, but always feel free to encourage the other party to do that to themselves.
Next week I will look at how some of these things play out and give a couple of examples, case studies of negotiations that I have experienced over the years, including one on the No Deal option.

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