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Two Things About Negotiating

From Maria Simpson’s Two-Minute Trainings listserv

Have you ever heard yourself say (or think) something like,“Wait. No. Actually I didn’t mean it that way. I was just throwing ideas out. I . . .” Oops.
Or maybe — 
“Wow. That went a lot faster than I expected. I probably should have asked for more right at the beginning. I guess it’s too late now.”
If this is what you’re thinking, then you’ve probably made a mistake in negotiation tactics. Here are two ways to avoid these mistakes.
1. Realize you’re negotiating.
Sometimes in our enthusiasm to explore a new idea or collaboration or project, we start brainstorming and throwing out great ideas.We let our imaginations go where they want to so that the best ideas are surfaced and the creative collaboration results in something really exciting. 
Trouble is, we negotiate all day every day on both big and little things without realizing it, so by the time you get to “oops” you may be talking to someone who considers your best ideas as offers, not as simple explorations of possibilities. 
How do you respond? You might find yourself having to backtrack to find a nice way to say, “That’s not what I meant,” which puts you into a very weak negotiating position. Some participants will insist that “that’s what you said,” and press for getting your best idea without there being a corresponding benefit to you. 
The dilemma results from a misunderstanding of the goal of the conversation and trying to balance the importance of not losing control over your best idea with the importance of the relationship that could be wildly successful in the future. Or not. If the relationship begins with a misunderstanding and one party insisting on something that is really unacceptable to the other, then you might find yourself locked into an unsatisfactory working relationship or walking away from a potentially wonderful collaboration. 
The lesson? Don’t let your best ideas get ahead of you. Get to know the people you’re working with so that you have an idea of how open you can be and when you might have to hold something back until negotiating styles are clearer. Save something to offer in the future so that you can get something you want in return. Understand mutual concessions and work to make them relatively equal.
2. Do the research.

Here’s something else you might hear yourself saying or at least thinking: 
What would have changed if I had known more about the negotiating party or the circumstances of the general business environment such as the average salaries in this area for this work? Maybe nothing. Maybe you wanted to do a favor for someone or contribute to a charity and the amounts didn’t really matter all that much, but when amounts matter, they have to be realistic and based on prevailing rates or values. 
Of course, those prevailing rates in themselves may not be fair, but knowing about them allows you to choose whether you want to hold out for what you think is fair or negotiate for something not quite fair but suitable to the circumstances. Without information, you have little control over your own decision. 
The lesson? Find out about the situation and the interests of the other party in what is being discussed and see if you can find your most important leverage point, what matters a great deal to the other person. Negotiations aren’t just alternative offers until you get to a mostly middle point. They are also explorations to get information that helps you know what the other person wants so you can find a way to offer it in exchange for something youreally want.
Some things to explore and then take into account include the importance of the relationship as well as the deal. Maybe the relationship matters more than anything else, as it often does, and that becomes the basis of your decision.
You should also have decided in advance what your walk-away point is, what is called your BATNA, Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Can you do any better than what is offered in this case? Is leaving your worst option or does it provide a reasonable and realistic alternative? Without BATNAs we make small compromises at different stages or for different parts of the negotiation and find ourselves suddenly aware that we have “given away the farm.” Stay in control of what you decide, and if the negotiation gets to a point where you would not have said yes on item two if you had known what would be demanded on item 5, then re-open item 2. Don’t ever agree to a deal one item at a time. Retain your right to change your mind. Cumulatively, you may end up losing more than you were willing to negotiate away.
Summary: Don’t confuse bainstorming with negotiating; do the research needed to understand the offers and concessions (return offers) being made by both of you; know when you will walk away no matter how much it hurts because staying will hurt more in the long run and ruin the relationship.
Happy  negotiating.
Have an absolutely wonderful and peaceful week.


Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, trainer and mediator who has worked extensively with the corporate, non-profit and conflict resolution communities to promote incorporating conflict resolution into organizational systems and training people in the skills and approaches of mediation. MORE >

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