The vast majority of business professionals and lawyers acknowledge the value of strategic planning. “Of course strategic planning makes sense,” they admit. “We do it all the time, especially in setting our goals.”
Yet many of these same individuals fail to strategically prepare for critical negotiations. Now don’t misunderstand – many do their substantive homework and know their facts.
But they often don’t comprehensively and strategically prepare for the process, failing to evaluate such process-related issues as the parties’ core underlying interests, fundamental leverage, independent standards and objective criteria, offer-concession strategies and agenda control dynamics.
What do they do instead? They go at it intuitively and largely off-the-cuff. Why?
• The false belief that “the best negotiators are born, not made.”
Last week one of my training program participants asked if negotiation is more art than science and whether the best negotiators are born, not made. I told him that, while some brilliant negotiators in hicolumn never studied the subject, and many started negotiating by working their parents off against each other at an early age, this doesn’t mean they were born with all their skills.
In fact, a significant proportion of their skills were learned behavior – either from their parents, mentors or from other life experiences.
And many of those brilliant negotiators would probably have been even better had today’s negotiation research been available to them. After all, a lot of negotiation research has been completed in the past 35 or so years, some of which even came from studying those brilliant negotiators.
Bottom line – we can all improve from studying and implementing this research.
• The “I don’t have the time to strategically plan” excuse.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me “I just don’t have the time to strategically plan for all my negotiations.”
Look, I know everyone is busy and has a ton of items on their task lists. And I’m not suggesting everyone spend hours preparing for every negotiation. But negotiation experts know that planning saves time and leads to more efficient and effective negotiations.
What do we recommend? For your significant negotiations, spend at least twice as much time planning for them as doing them.
And if you’re a manager of front-line negotiators in sales, purchasing or at the executive level – don’t give this lip service. Require written strategic negotiation plans for all your biggest deals.
• I want to develop a strategic negotiation plan – but I don’t know how.
It used to be a valid excuse to say you didn’t know how to develop a negotiation plan. Not today. Today there’s a relative degree of consensus among negotiation experts relating to the core research-based strategies and tactics (which are accessible online in my previous columns).
So what’s your next step? Commit yourself to developing a written strategic negotiation plan for your next big negotiation. Then prepare to reap its benefits.
Published November 5, 2009 The Arizona Republic