You arrive at Dick’s office promptly at 10 a.m. for the negotiation and you’re asked to take a seat. Dick, whom you’ve never met, apparently is running late.
Thirty minutes later, Dick appears, apologizes for the inconvenience, ushers you into his office and introduces you to his colleagues, Bill and John, whom you did not expect in the meeting. Dick then motions for you to sit in front of his desk.
You sit down, and notice the sun in your eyes and Dick looking down at you from his chair behind the desk. Dick then tells you he only has 20 minutes, and asks you to make a proposal.
What should you do?
Initially, recognize what’s occurred. Before a substantive word has been uttered, Dick has manipulated the time, location, setting, number of negotiation parties and sought to control the agenda.
In other words, Dick’s trying to gain some strategic advantage by undermining your confidence in your bargaining position.
He views the negotiation as a contest of will, not of principles, and has chosen his tactics accordingly.
The vast majority will respond to these types of pressure tactics in one of two ways.
Most will ignore these tactics and try to negotiate the best substantive deal they can.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did this in Munich in 1938 when Hitler raised the ante after Chamberlain thought they had a deal. Chamberlain gave in, appeased Hitler and failed to ultimately avoid war. World War II started one year later with Hitler even stronger.
Alternatively, many will respond to pressure tactics with pressure tactics of their own.
“The next meeting will be in my office, and I’ll keep Dick waiting 60 minutes. If he threatens me, I’ll counterthreat. I can play this game, too.”
This response also often proves unproductive, as such tit-for-tat tactics have a tendency to spiral out of control and prevent and/or destroy working relationships.
These negotiations invariably prove unduly frustrating and expensive for both sides, and often break down even when solutions exist that satisfy both sides’ interests.
There’s a third option. Negotiate over the process. If the other side tries to manipulate the rules of the game to your disadvantage, make those rules the initial subject of the negotiation.
How? First, recognize the tactics. Prepare for the negotiation by finding out your opponent’s reputation – and confirm it for yourself.
Do others believe he lies or deceives others, makes unreasonable demands, uses threats, personal attacks, warnings, ridicule or flattery? Does he appear to lose his temper in negotiations or seem irrational? Do he and his partners often use the good guy/bad guy routine? Find out.
Second, raise your observations explicitly. And don’t use personal attacks, as they often prove counterproductive.
For instance, you might say: “Dick, I’ve got to tell you, I’m just not comfortable negotiating in this environment. The long wait, the sun in my eyes, the unexpected presence of your colleagues, the height of the chairs, the unrealistic deadline. Perhaps we should just reschedule to a time, place and setting in which we’re both more comfortable.”
Sometimes, just raising these issues will get them to stop. Your explicit recognition of their tactics may undermine their effectiveness.
Your main purpose in raising their tactics explicitly, however, is to negotiate a process that’s fair to both sides – before you negotiate the substance. Negotiate over where, when and how to proceed.
Then base your “rules of the game” on principles, interests and objective criteria, not positions and power tactics.
Perhaps you’ll base your agreement on the principle of reciprocity – and alternate sites. Or you’ll agree to only two parties per side – one with authority, and one for technical support. Or you’ll use an independent third party to ensure a fair process, such as in the Microsoft case.
So next time Dick keeps you waiting or your opponent tries some tricky negotiation tactic, don’t tolerate or fight it. Negotiate it. You’ll be better off as a result.
Published November 26, 1999 The Business Journal