How and where to get it
Information is the first crucial component in negotiating because it is a big
advantage to learn what the other side really wants, their limits and their deadlines.
However, information is recognized as power, especially in situations where one
side does not particularly trust the other. Consequently, it is often common strategy
for one or both sides to conceal their true interests, their needs and priorities.
So often we see that serious negotiations only get under way after sufficient
pressure has built up "in the system" so to speak.
Obtaining information under these conditions, especially from an experienced
negotiator in an adversarial situation, presents enormous difficulties. The chance
of getting key information at this stage is very remote. So, the key is to start
early because the earlier the start the lower the stress levels and the easier
it is for information to be gathered. Once stress levels have risen in an acknowledged
formal confrontation, attitudes become solidified, defensive and closed.
Some people assume that the more intimidating or flawless they appear to others,
the more they will learn. Actually the opposite is true. The best approach is
to quietly and persistently probe for information, not like a grand inquisitor
but rather as a humble human being seeking genuine advice. The more apparently
confused and defenseless the approach, the more the respondents are inclined
to help, especially with information and advice. With this approach too, it
is easier to listen more than talk, to ask questions rather than give answers.
In fact, you should ask questions even when you know the answer because this
way you can test the credibility of the other side.
Who are the best sources of information? Anyone who works with or for the other
side, anyone who has dealt with them in the past, or third parties and even competitors.
This includes secretaries, clerks, engineers, janitors, spouses, technicians or
past customers and suppliers. They will typically be willing to respond if approached
in a non-threatening way.
Is there more to it?
In most instances, there is more to gathering information than just described.
It may be necessary to give information in order to get some in return. Perceptive
people will not communicate with you beyond the chit chat level until reciprocal
risks are established. That is, until you share commensurate information with
them. However, by giving carefully worded and controlled information during this
stage, you may be able to lower the expectation level of the other side.
Conversely, if you introduce new information late in the negotiation you may
stall the proceedings because of the element of surprise. Instead, by introducing
the same issue early and then raising it several more times at adroitly spaced
intervals, it becomes familiar to the other side. As it becomes familiar, it somehow
becomes more acceptable.
Remember that change and new ideas are only acceptable when presented slowly
in bite sized fragments. Keep that in mind when trying to alter someone's viewpoint,
thinking, perceptions and expectations. For most people it's easier and more comfortable
to stay in a familiar groove.
When it finally comes to the negotiating event, practice effective listening
techniques. By carefully concentrating on what's going on it is possible to
learn a lot about what the other side is really feeling, their motivation and
their real needs. Of course attentive listening and observation mean not just
hearing what is being said, but also understanding what is not being said.
Study the body language
The study and interpretation of body language and related cues has become very
popular in recent years. A cue is a message sent indirectly, whose meaning may
be ambiguous and require interpretation. Essentially these fall into three basic
- Unintentional cues, in which behaviors
or words transmit an inadvertent message. For example a Freudian slip
- Verbal cues, in which the voice, intonation
or emphasis, sends a message that seems to contradict the words being spoken
- Behavioral cues, body language displayed
by posture, facial expressions, eye contact, hand gestures, where a person sits
at a conference table, who nudges whom or who pats whom on the shoulder, and so
on. In our culture pattors seem to have more power than pattees!
The interpretation of much body language is obvious, but beware of ascribing
some universal meaning to an isolated gesture, without taking the circumstances
How can we apply all this to a negotiating situation? The key information that
any negotiator would like to have about the other side is their real limits, just
how much they will sacrifice to make this deal. In other words, what is the lowest
price the seller will sell for? Or, what is the absolute top figure that the buyer
will pay? You may be able to determine this by carefully observing the other side's
pattern of concession behavior.