Improve Your Negotiations With The 5 Golden Rules.   LEARN THEM

At the end of the day, I was escorted into his corner office. He was the managing partner of the law firm, and he sat behind a large desk, in the power position. It was my last interview. If it went well, I hoped to receive a job offer.

So began our negotiation. Many would say I already was at a disadvantage. I was on his turf, in his office, at the mercy of his schedule, and he controlled the environment.

I’m not so sure. While these factors can provide a leg up, I learned some crucial information about him from sitting in his office and soaking up his surroundings. This information proved indispensable in the latter stages of our negotiation.

Many negotiations begin with the turf battle: your place, my place or a neutral place. In some cases, the home court provides a significant advantage. Other times, it can work to your detriment. Neutral sites, of course, eliminate much of the bias.

What factors impact this turf issue? Consider the following when deciding, or negotiating, where to meet.

• Control: In my office, I control the environment. While some limitations exist, I largely control the seating and the office support functions that parties require. I might even control who attends, if this has not already been explicitly addressed. This control can provide a substantial advantage.

Recently, I was asked to consult with a large manufacturing company after it experienced a particularly challenging negotiation with one of its biggest customers. Last year, it was asked to send its team to negotiate at the customer’s headquarters in the Midwest.

Unexpectedly, when this company’s negotiating team arrived to start, they were told their biggest competitor was in the adjoining conference room. A bidding war ensued for the customer’s business. This could not have happened without the customer’s home court advantage.

The company’s mistake? They failed to address the question of who would be at the table before they traveled to their customer’s turf.

• Psychological tendencies: A big reason to negotiate on your home front relates to the psychological comfort many derive from their most familiar environment.

If you’re psychologically at ease, you will be better able to make the moves necessary to maximize your negotiation effectiveness. Plus, we psychologically tend to fight harder for what we want on our home front than elsewhere. Sports teams know this well.

These psychological factors obviously work in the reverse if you’re heading to their place.

Some experienced negotiators downplay the relevance of this factor, saying it’s no big deal. It may very well be true – for them. If you’re an extremely confident negotiator, you may be equally comfortable in many different environments.

But your counterpart may not. Take this into consideration.

• Information exchange: At your office, you inevitably provide strategic information to your counterpart concerning who you are and how you approach matters. One of the first things I do when I meet someone in their office is analyze that individual’s personal and business environment.

Are they ego driven, with awards and other exhibitions of their alleged expertise prominently displayed? Are they family and relationship-oriented, with family pictures all over? Are they risk-takers, with sky diving pictures on the wall? What does it tell you if they have an organized, neat desk, and sharpened pencils lined up on top? The list goes on.

Of course, you always can meet in a relatively sterile conference room, although they still will get a sense of the personality of your work environment.

• Efficiency and logistics: There’s no travel cost, in time or money, if you’re negotiating from your place. Plus, you often can deal more effectively with unexpected issues or emergencies. Your resources are right at hand.

But if your office doesn’t satisfy the parties’ logistical needs, you may be forced to meet at their place or in a neutral site. At times, this may be the only factor involved.

• Expectations: Finally, consider what expectations exist regarding the negotiation site. Tradition may drive this decision. Be wary of conceding on the location front, though, if you believe your counterpart will consider it a sign of weakness and reflective of your negotiating style.

This time, we were on the same side of the table. The law firm hired me, and the managing partner and I now were on our way to hopefully settle a substantial lawsuit.

As we drove to opposing counsel’s office, I considered our decision to negotiate there. Bottom line: It’s tough to pull a walkout if the negotiation takes place in your own office.

Published May 2, 2003 The Business Journal

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