“What issues should we address in our first meeting or call? Should we tackle the toughest issues first, knowing the other issues will be irrelevant if we can’t resolve these? Or should we develop some early momentum on the easier issues, and then address the difficult ones? And is setting a limited timeframe for the meeting a good or bad idea?”
These agenda elements can make or break your negotiation – especially in your disproportionately impactful first meeting. Here are some general principles to keep in mind, with the caveat that what has traditionally occurred in your environment may largely drive this initial meeting.
1. Set the right tone and atmosphere
First impressions count. So it almost always makes strategic sense to initially take the time to set the right tone and atmosphere. Especially consider building rapport by exploring common personal interests with small talk on issues unrelated to the negotiation. Develop your relationship first.
In a recent seminar for lawyers, a very experienced litigator shared that he always invited his opposing counsel to lunch at the beginning of every case. At lunch, he never talked about the case. Instead, the lunch was just to get to know each other, so that when the negotiations got heated later – which often happens in litigation – he and his counterpart had enough rapport to move forward.
Don’t underestimate the importance of small talk in your initial meeting.
2. Build momentum on relatively easy issues
It’s rarely advisable to cut to the chase and address the toughest issues first, especially if those appear to be zero sum issues (where more for one side necessarily means less for the other). This is particularly important if you see significant potential for a mutually beneficial deal.
Why not address the tougher issues first? After all, it might appear to be the most efficient way to proceed, right? Wrong. Doing so will often unnecessarily increase the likelihood of an early impasse that will be difficult if not impossible to resolve. It’s usually better to build early momentum by addressing significant but likely resolvable issues early.
Then, when you hit the tougher issues, you’ve already built sufficient momentum and a good working relationship to take them on more creatively and effectively.
Momentum is a very powerful force.
3. Negotiate when and how to negotiate
Should you limit the length of your first call or meeting? Who should participate in the meeting and what role should they play? Where should the meeting take place? Should it be in person or by phone? Should you set some “ground rules” for the negotiation? How about sending over a written agenda – or just bringing one with you to the meeting? Should you share who is coming from your side or not?
These questions raise important agenda-related considerations that should be addressed internally and incorporated into your strategic negotiation plan prior to the negotiation.
However, some of these might also be discussed with your counterpart in a pre-meeting call or communication. This pre-negotiation negotiation can be critical to starting out the process right.
Several weeks ago a colleague of mine and I showed up at a meeting expecting one counterpart and found two. It would have been helpful – for everyone – had we been informed of this beforehand.
Instead, this “blindside” set the initial tone. We’ve been dealing with this ever since.
Published November 4, 2013 The Arizona Republic