“I know it’s critical to view the negotiation process through your counterpart’s eyes,” a top executive at a multibillion dollar company recently told me. “But I’m not sure exactly how to do this. How can we set aside our own views and biases and really get into our counterpart’s mind?”
This is a great question.
After all, it’s easy to suggest that you should get into your counterpart’s mind. It’s far more difficult – but absolutely necessary – to actually do it. The key question is how.
Here are four practical steps you can take to more effectively begin to understand your counterpart’s goals, motivations, interests, alternatives, problems and possible solutions.
1. Research your counterpart’s style, strategies and reputation.
Start by finding out what others have to say about your counterpart, both those who have negotiated with the person and those who simply know by reputation. Find out how your counterpart thinks and which styles, strategies and habits he or she naturally and consistently uses.
And don’t just stop by researching negotiation reputations. Also find out personal likes and dislikes. Develop a comprehensive overall picture of your counterpart.
Before you can really get into
your counterpart’s mind, you need to know as much about him or her as possible.
2. Ask an expert or consultant who has previously served in that capacity.
I recently consulted with an individual looking to purchase a property management business. A significant part of his negotiation preparation involved extensive conversations with a colleague who had spent years in the industry.
If you want to buy a new car, it will help enormously to talk with a former car salesman. And if you’re negotiating with Motorola, a former Motorola employee may give you some incredible insights into how Motorola approaches specific types of negotiations.
This would be even more helpful if that individual’s job at Motorola involved negotiations similar to yours. Of course, this assumes the ex-Motorola employee has no contractual prohibition on talking about these issues.
In short, experts and others who have previously served in the capacity of your counterpart can help you understand how it looks from the other side. After all, they’ve been there.
3. Brainstorm with an unbiased colleague.
Regular readers of this column know I’m a big fan of brainstorming on negotiation
issues. The benefits of brainstorming include drawing out your creativity, helping you comprehensively evaluate your short and long-term goals and issues and adding another mind and fresh look to analyze the issues.
These benefits will be magnified if you brainstorm about your counterpart with colleagues who have no vested interest in the result. That way, they bring to the table a completely unbiased approach and can more effectively help you evaluate your counterpart’s goals, interests, etc.
4. Role-play the other side.
Finally, after gathering all this information about your counterpart, actually put yourself into his or her shoes and do some negotiating with a colleague as if you were on the other side. Put your knowledge to work. Prepare for your role-play negotiation from the other side’s perspective.
This active step will ensure that you filter and process the negotiation issues from your counterpart’s standpoint. This is a critical element of getting into your counterpart’s mind.
It’s easy to say, “look through the other person’s eyes.” It’s far more difficult to actually do it.
Yet, it’s well worth the time. In fact, if you think about it, your counterparts may already be doing it.
Published March 5, 2004 The Business Journal