“I just don’t have time to comprehensively prepare for every negotiation. I know I should – but it’s just not practical. Plus, not all my negotiations involve big stakes.”
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard this. It seems almost everyone intellectually accepts two basic tenets of strategic negotiations: a) planning based on the experts’ research pays large dividends in better results; and b) planning saves time by increasing efficiency and reducing the likelihood of impasses.
Yet it’s extraordinarily difficult for individuals and organizations to implement a systematic, disciplined step-by-step negotiation planning process.
Why? It’s very hard to change individuals’ behavior from how they have negotiated their entire lives – instinctively with little if any planning for the process – to doing it strategically with extensive process planning.
So what should you do? Engage in different amounts of planning for different types and sizes of deals. Don’t do everything we negotiation experts recommend every time.
To that end, I’ve developed the following 15-Minute Negotiation Plan – a plan for relatively small stakes negotiations where you don’t have much time to plan and for those who just want to get a taste of how to strategically plan.
1. Set your goals and identify the parties’ interests (5 minutes)
You can’t negotiate strategically if you don’t know where you want to end up. So first figure out what success looks like and then design a strategy to get there.
Also drill down and explore the parties’ fundamental interests. Why are you and your counterpart even at the table? What are the parties’ possible needs, interests, motivations, hidden agendas, emotional and psychological drivers, etc?
2. Determine your and their Plan Bs (5 minutes)
The biggest power element in any negotiation revolves around the parties’ Plan Bs – what each will do if they do not reach a deal. The better your Plan B, the stronger your leverage, and vice versa.
So figure out your Plan B and, if it’s good, use it. “I’d love to do this deal,” you might say, “but I can get a better return from this other investment [my Plan B]. If you want this deal, you have to sweeten the pot.”
This determination also will ensure you only agree to deals that make strategic sense. After all, at the end of the day you should reject all deals that are worse than your Plan B and accept all deals that are better than your Plan B.
Of course, also figure out your counterpart’s Plan B if you can. This will help you evaluate when they will walk (if their Plan B is better) or they will sign (if their Plan B is worse).
3. Pick a first move and a standard supporting it (4 minutes)
Selecting a first move spontaneously without any forethought and justification is a recipe for disaster. Don’t. Instead, decide if you want to make the first move and, if so, where to start.
Also be prepared to justify your move with an independent, objective standard like market value, precedent, expert opinion, etc. “This is fair because … “ Know how to complete that sentence.
4. Develop an agenda (1 minute)
Finally, briefly consider what you want to address first and what you want to wait to discuss. This can make or break your deal and, at the least, may set the tone for your entire negotiation.
Look, I know you’re probably super busy. And strategic planning takes time. But can’t you carve out 15 minutes to put together a strategic plan before your next significant negotiation?
Published March 2, 2012 The Arizona Republic