First impressions count. In fact, they have a disproportionate impact on how you are viewed. That’s one reason it’s critical to thoroughly prepare for that first meeting.
But how does everything play out for the rest of the negotiation? Should you map the process out in advance, with your counterparts, or just wing it?
Take control. Develop a roadmap for the negotiation as part of your strategic negotiation plan and strongly consider addressing it with your counterpart early on. Achieving some consensus on this roadmap is a core element of one of my Golden Rules of Negotiation, Control the Agenda.
“Wait,” you might say. “That’s inefficient. Time is limited, so why not just jump into the substance right away?”
Two reasons: 1) Harvard Law Professors Robert Bordone and Gillien Todd note that designing an efficient process up front not only saves time in the long-run but leads to more valuable, longer-lasting deals, and 2) our satisfaction level on deals is based in part on whether we felt the process was collegial and fair and also on the extent we developed a good working relationship with our counterparts.
So what issues should you address upfront? The Harvard Negotiation Newsletter suggests the following.
1. Who will be at the table?
Jointly discussing who will attend the initial meeting can avoid unpleasant surprises and provide everyone with valuable information for how to engage. Consider including principals, advisors, lawyers, financial or subject matter experts, assistants and others. Also explore who has authority and the extent of authority if that’s likely an issue.
2. Where will we negotiate?
There are advantages and disadvantages to meeting in person on your home turf. You might be more comfortable in your office, but you also might be giving up the opportunity to learn more about your counterpart by evaluating their office environment. Perhaps meet on neutral ground. Also discuss the type of meeting you want – in-person, conference call, e-mail, online, etc.
3. Consider upfront conditions to even meet
Preconditions to even meeting should be considered and possibly negotiated upfront. A staple in international negotiations, there may be value to gain before you ever formally sit down at the table.
4. What issues will we cover?
Brainstorming what, when and how issues will be addressed can decrease the likelihood of misunderstandings and increase efficiency. The parties may have radically different agendas for the negotiation – and listing them upfront can be very helpful.
Avoid, however, the urge to address the substance of those issues. That may get you bogged down when you really want to generate momentum.
5. What is the timeline?
Explore the parties’ expectations regarding how long the negotiation might last and don’t forget to find out any firm deadlines. And if no firm deadlines exist, consider jointly setting some flexible deadlines to give everyone some incentive to progress at a reasonable pace.
We recently met with a high-level government official whose time is managed down to the minute – and he imposed a firm 30-minute deadline (a precondition). What did we do? Developed our strategic plan and then had several communications with his assistant to address the above issues. It made a big difference.
Published February 11, 2011 The Arizona Republic