It appears some powerful momentum is currently being generated in the hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas. The first several hostages were released October 23. Then last week more were released each day of the 4-day negotiated “pause.” (For a good summary of the negotiations, check out CNN’s “Inside the Painstaking Negotiations Between Israel, Hamas, the US and Qatar To Free 50 Hostages.”)
Monday this “pause” was extended 2 more days so more hostages could go home.
Watching this, it reminded me of the crucial nature of momentum and the order of issues in many negotiations. We need to evaluate questions like:
- Which issues should we raise first in the negotiation – the most or least critical?
- Should you start with the easier ones and build momentum, or with a blue chip and leave the least important to the end?
- Which issues logically might be traded for each other?
- Do you want to confirm how the other side values an issue by direct questioning, or try to determine its priority by putting together multiple packages and logrolling (if you give me this, I will give you that)?
Numerous variables impact this offer-concession dynamic. Here are some rules of thumb to help you orchestrate the best game plan (An extensive discussion of these factors can be found in my first book, Gain the Edge! Negotiating To Get What You Want (St. Martin’s Press, 2004).
- Expect, plan, and insist on reciprocity of movement. Be prepared to give to get.
- Seriously consider starting with Blue Chip issues on which both sides will likely agree.
- Momentum matters. The longer the negotiation lasts, the more committed both sides psychologically will feel to reaching an agreement. I suspect this also occurs more powerfully when the negotiation is in person versus online.
- The earlier and more consistently you raise an issue, the more it’s perceived as Blue Chip. Likewise, if you raise an issue near the end for the first time, it will be perceived as relatively unimportant.
- Evaluate limiting your authority on the bluest of the Blue Chip issues, at least initially. There’s almost always an entity to which you can make yourself accountable. Even corporate CEOs must answer to a board of directors. Your truthful accountability to someone else, even if you expressly create it before the negotiation for this purpose, will increase your reluctance to concede. Of course, don’t overuse this, as you will lose credibility if done too often.
- Consider responding to their offer by simply saying “I’m sorry. You’ll have to do better than that.” Then wait and see if they sweeten their offer. There’s no downside to asking, and unsophisticated negotiators sometimes just keep on giving. Of course, better negotiators will counter by asking “How much better will I need to do?”
- Remain flexible. You will invariably learn a great deal about your counterparts’ values and priorities during the offer-concession stage. Maintaining sufficient flexibility allows you to take advantage of new strategically important information and unanticipated opportunities.
Latz’s Lesson: Positive momentum and effective offer-concession tactics are powerful psychological forces in negotiations. I thus hope and expect more hostages will be released sooner rather than later.
* Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.