The telephone rang and caller ID showed a number starting with zeros.
He was calling from South America and wanted to purchase the rights to something I owned. I was intrigued. The call was undoubtedly pricey, so I figured he must be serious. He was.
The opening moments of this negotiation, and of almost all negotiations, form an often defining moment in the process. That moment — and several other relatively predictable points in most negotiations — frequently disproportionately impact what subsequently happens.
In fact, they can make or break the deal. As a result, negotiators should devote special consideration to these points.
Generally, the following moments warrant special time and planning:
1. Pre-negotiation strategic planning: Ohio State Business School professor Roy Lewicki recommends parties spend at least twice as much time planning for significant negotiations as actually doing them. But don’t just learn about the substantive issues, also plan for the process.
Process issues include going through my Five Golden Rules of Negotiation: information is power; maximize your leverage; employ fair, objective criteria; design an offer-concession strategy; control the agenda.
Your result should be a specific Strategic Negotiation Plan that — while flexible — should incorporate your best practices.
2. The opening move: Should you start by telephoning your counterpart, e-mailing or arranging a personal meeting? How do you want to introduce yourself or do you want someone else to represent you? How can you build rapport? What exactly do you want to communicate, especially if you are only given a limited amount of time?
Evaluate and answer these questions, then put your plan into action. Make your first impressions count.
3. The first offer or counter: You send an important signal with your first offer or counter. What signal do you want to send, how aggressive should you be, and when should you send it?
These decisions require extra consideration. The dynamic of many negotiations can change once you enter the offer-concession stage. Parties often start to feel more competitive and tend to become more discerning and guarded about what they say and do.
Especially beware of the premature offer or counter. Many individuals want to cut to the chase. Resist the urge. Once you enter this stage, it’s often extremely difficult to revert back to the way it felt before.
4. Unexpected moves or surprises: Most negotiations include some moments of tension and/or stress, so you should prepare ways to break the tension. Humor, for instance, can be a very effective. So can the right column or a description of an analogous situation that turned out well.
Of course, you don’t want to appear too canned or scripted. But it usually makes sense to brainstorm what you might do when and if you face the unexpected.
5. The close: The final moments of many negotiations tend to share certain characteristics. Psychologically, individuals often feel they want to seal the deal if they have spent substantial time negotiating and a relatively small difference exists between positions.
Egos often play a disproportionate role here as the parties focus on whether they believe they have won or lost. And emotion — elation or disappointment — also may come into play. Sometimes the parties also are physically or emotionally drained.
These dynamics can create a volatile environment in which otherwise inconsequential moves or statements may have a disproportionate impact.
First impressions – and other defining moments in the negotiation process – can make a huge difference. Make them count positively for you.
Published February 3, 2006 The Business Journal