Negotiating for Project Benefit


Introduction | Information | Time | Power


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 categories:

  1. Unintentional cues, in which behaviors or words transmit an inadvertent message. For example a Freudian slip
  2. Verbal cues, in which the voice, intonation or emphasis, sends a message that seems to contradict the words being spoken
  3. 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 into account.

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.

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