In this article, I am working on the premise that prior to the negotiation stage of any deal, there is an initial selling stage: in other words, first there has been some sort of “sales” process – whether it is selling a product, concept or service – which has led the potential “purchaser” to the stage where there is either an overt or covert agreement to proceed to the negotiation stage which will deal with the terms and conditions to be met and are necessary for each part to receive what they require in exchange. Therefore, one might say that selling and negotiations are two completely different stages and should be treated as such.
Having been involved in negotiations worldwide for more than 30 years, I have noticed that in a great many cases there is a tendency for many negotiators to feel that the objective(s) of the negotiation is clear for all sides involved. This is, unfortunately frequently untrue and this incorrect assumption frequently leads to unexpected and undesirable consequences during the negotiation where undeclared expectations or perceptions can cause unnecessary conflict.
In order to ensure that all the parties involved in the negotiation start with a clear idea of “our” team’s starting point, perceptions, expectations, etc., we recommend to our clients that, prior to entering into the negotiation, they make a short, clear and concise presentation to the other parties involved in it, thereby ensuring that, for their part at least, there is the perception of transparency and goodwill.
The fact that you have prepared a presentation of this type is usually taken as a sign of your seriousness regarding this negotiation and shows your level of preparation which can, in many situations, give you a strong psychological advantage over less well-prepared interlocutors!
Stages of the presentation:
The first part should involve an overview of what has been accomplished by both parts that has led up to this negotiation: Previous meetings, studies performed, problems identified, alternatives studied, the specific proposal that is going to be the subject of this negotiation. Etc., with the focus always being on the positive elements rather than the negative.
The objective of this first stage is to provide all the participants with a short review of what should be “known information”* and helps to create a psychological “Yes Set” in the minds of the participants. So that they become used to the idea of being in agreement with you. It also provides you with the opportunity to verify that your ideas and recollections are shared by the other parties.
We recommend that this is NOT treated as a multi direction / multi person discussion, but as a unidirectional presentation – You to them!
The second stage of the presentation should capitalize on the psychological advantages obtained in the first part to lead the other parties into more problematic areas. It has proven useful to do this part as a presentation rather than a discussion in that once each step has been presented, the other side have a complete overview of how we perceive the negotiation and how we could achieve a win-win outcome. This part could be based on the elements outlined in “Getting to yes”** by Roger Fisher which include:
– Talking about Interests***:
– Ours: We should talk openly about what our interests are in this negotiation with the focus being on how our interests can also help them to achieve their interests (as we currently perceive them). We believe that it is useful to actually provide the other participants with a written copy of our interests which will usually be perceived by them as yet another display of our transparency which frequently leads to reflective behaviour from the other side – If we do it first, it serves as an example for them to follow.
– Theirs: We then present (briefly) what we believe to be their interests at this time with the promise that we will revisit them later to check what elements may be added, deleted or modified. The emphasis is on the benefits that they want to obtain. The other side would also be given a printed copy of this list.
– Shared: Presenting a list showing our shared interests which have brought us to the negotiating table. This list is that should enable us to work together to achieve mutual benefits and serves as a reminder of why we are seated at the table should problems be encountered. Once again, a printed copy should be given out for future reference.
Once these two areas have been covered, we then move from the presentation mode into the discussion part of the process where we would go more deeply into the three areas mentioned above to modify, if necessary, each area to reflect the real interests of each party and to ensure that everyone involved has a clear understanding of what interests are involved, their importance in the negotiation and how we will all use them to achieve a successful outcome. The objective of this part of the exercise is to show transparency in our way of thinking and behaving during the negotiation. Also, we are involving the other side in a collaborative task to help ensure the success of the negotiation while creating a precedent for resolving problems “together”. In addition, when the interests have been agreed, it is much more difficult for the other side to suddenly decide to change their interests which have been the basis of the whole negotiation up to that point! Finally, if the negotiation is blocked at some point, it is always useful to remind the other side of the list of agreed interests and ask them how this fits into their interests!
After the previous stage and when agreement has been reached by both parties on their interests and the shared interests, many clients have also returned to the Presentation Format to present the areas of “Creative options” by presenting a range of options that are all directly linked to the expressed interests of the other party: “We have option XYZ which directly covers your interest for ABC by providing XXX”. Whenever, and wherever, possible we recommend that both sides look for elements that “Dovetail”: Cheap for us and high-value for them or vice versa.
We have to directly and clearly link all our options to their interests as we should never assume that the other side are able to do so – what is clear for you might not be so clear for someone else.
They then link these “Creative options” to “Objective Criteria” which serves to validate them. It is important to make it very clear that these are possible Options NOT Proposals. It is vital that we have Objective Criteria which validates our proposals and reduces the risk of emotional responses.
There are bound to be some occasions / contexts or topics when it might not be possible or desirable to apply the techniques mentioned here for a multitude of reasons. However, as a general rule, we have found it to be of great use in achieving mutually beneficial outcomes when working on two or three-party negotiations.
While this type of activity is new, different and requires additional time and effort from the negotiator and their team, the results more than justify this extra preparation.
* For more information, see this article: The Three Key Structures of Effective Communication. Short link: http://wp.me/p2guX2-bC
** R. Fisher, W. L. Ury, B. Patton.: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving in. Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
*** For detailed examples, see these articles:
1. Applying Dovetailing in a Union Negotiation – A Practical Example. Short link:
2 Dovetailing in Negotiations; Human Resources Case study. Short link: http://wp.me/p2guX2-1y.
© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain, 2013.