I am using the term ‘negotiation’ broadly, applying it to a wide variety of situations where groups or individuals are seeking an agreement. Central elements of a negotiation are similar whether it is a personal relationship, a business arrangement, or a diplomatic issue between nations. In all of these situations the parties have different perceptions of fairness, which they will have to reconcile at negotiation. Additionally, a history of conflict or harm done may need to be addressed.
The more prepared you are for your negotiation, the better you will fare. This suggests that the more important the negotiation, the more time you should spend preparing. Preparation occurs on several levels. The set of questions below will assist you to generate knowledge and information that will empower you to be more effective in any negotiation.
~ What am I trying to achieve?
Make sure you write down your goals. If you become disoriented during the negotiation you will be able to refer to them.
~ How can I increase my power constructively? What is my best walk-away option?
Knowing what you can do if negotiation breaks down is essential. Your best alternative for meeting your goals outside of the negotiation is a foundation on which you can stand.
~ How can I create a constructive rapport with the other party? What are past, present, and future relationship dynamics I should consider? Relative to the matter being negotiated, how important is this relationship?
You may not be fond of those you face in negotiation. Nevertheless, you have to build a working relationship in order to succeed. Some say that you should not negotiate with strangers; do learn what you can about people you don’t know.
If relationship with the person you will face in negotiation is important, you may be wise to ensure he or she receives a good outcome in the long run. If you don’t care about the other person, you can be more insistent about what you need.
~ What cultural and social influences, as well as regulatory, legal, or organizational factors are relevant to our negotiation?
If there are cultural differences, be prepared to talk about how they are relevant to forming an agreement. You don’t want to be in conflict over how to communicate as it will add another layer of difficulty. This can easily happen.
~ What topics (agenda issues) do I want to talk about and seek agreement on? What topics might the other party want on our agenda?
Generating a roadmap for the conversation after opening statements will make the negotiation more efficient.
~ What is important to me and why? How can I best communicate it? What might be important to the other party and why?
As part of your preparation, try to get in touch with what matters most to you, and find ways to talk about it. In conflict situations, this awareness is often lacking as people become distracted by their dissatisfaction with other party and don’t clarify their own needs and concerns.
Put yourself in the other party’s shoes; it may be the most important skill of an effective negotiator. Listen well when you are face to face, but also anticipate what you might hear. Considering the other party’s position ahead of time will make you a more accurate listener.
~ What are terms that might work for both of us in an agreement?
Always think ahead of where you are, both towards possible options for resolution, but also preparing for possible impasses that may occur. Thinking ahead also keeps you on track.
~ What assumptions could I be making?
If only we knew all the answers to this one. We always have blind spots. Try to uncover some of them. Know that others will arise in negotiation.
~ What additional knowledge and information should I gather?
~ Who should attend? When, where, and how should we meet?
Meeting at a location comfortable for the other party may put them more at ease, which can reduce unhelpful defensiveness. Consider time and personnel resources in relation to the size of the problem and expertise you require. Interpersonal skills of a team member are most important in negotiation. He or she can quickly learn about a negotiation topic much more easily than quickly learn how to relate productively and constructively with others.
In the next blog I will pose some additional questions to add to preparation when you have been in significant conflict with the individual or group you will face in negotiation.
Let me know which of the above questions you find the most illuminating.
Take care until the next issue of The Conflict Journey.