I was surprised. We had developed a strategic negotiation plan and researched and considered a variety of possible reactions to our proposal. Yet his initial approach caught us off guard. In fact, it was inconsistent with our evaluation of his long-term interests and needs.
What should we do? How should we respond?
Almost everyone has a similar negotiation story – you do your homework and due diligence and seem prepared for almost anything. But then your counterpart throws you a curveball.
If the unpredictable happens, do this:
• Explore their approach.
Don’t fight their move. Find out more about it. Drill down and explore the underlying rationale and justification for it. Ask questions and find out where they are coming from and what prompted that move or reaction. At a base level, uncover why they are doing what they are doing.
Ask questions like “I’m not quite sure I understand as I was under the impression that… What’s going on?” and “That’s very interesting. Tell me more about it.”
The more you find out their motivation for the unpredictable move, the better you will be able to develop an effective strategic response.
• Consider a break.
It’s easy to say “get information” and “find their true motivations,” but it’s often exceedingly difficult to do. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to sit back and be logical, especially when you’re taken unawares.
In most negotiations, however, you should be prepared with a reason to take a break if the negotiation goes in a particularly unexpected direction. So prepare some reasons beforehand, just in case. In effect, expect and prepare for the unexpected.
• Reassess your strategic plan.
What should you do during your break? Review your strategic plan and reassess your initial analysis – especially your counterpart’s goals and interests – in light of your newly discovered information.
And don’t beat yourself up because it was a surprise. You can’t plan for everything and negotiations inevitably are fluid and can’t be fully scripted out. The crucial part is to develop and implement a strategic negotiation plan so you act based on the experts’ proven research, thus increasing your likelihood of achieving your goals.
Taking these steps when you’re thrown something out of left field will empower you to throw it back in the right strategic direction.
Published February 4, 2010 The Arizona Republic