“What should I do if I don’t have nearly the same level of factual knowledge as my counterpart – and I just don’t have the time to learn it as it’s super complicated and I have a short deadline in which to respond?”
Here’s what I recommend.
1. Use Your Expertise on the Negotiation Process
No one is an expert on everything. But for those who regularly engage in significant negotiations in their professions (like lawyers, sales and purchasing professionals, business consultants, investment bankers, and business executives), strive to develop an expertise in the process of negotiation.
Why? Expert negotiators can use their process-oriented knowledge to deeply probe and ascertain the other sides’ interests and needs regardless of their lack of substantive knowledge. Of course, they will need to have a baseline level, but their relative lack of knowledge will not destroy their ability to achieve a great deal.
Here, experience does not equal expertise. Knowledge of how to expertly navigate and control the negotiation process can make up for a substantive knowledge deficit.
Many years ago my car broke down and required significant repair work. At the time, I knew very little about what supposedly needed to be done.
I had already developed, however, an expertise in negotiation. What did I do? I first set my twin goals of a) getting quality repair work done, and b) at the lowest possible price. Then, to accomplish these, I ran a reverse auction and got five repair facilities bidding against one another for my business.
2. Enlist an Expert Advisor
It’s important in all negotiations to know what you don’t know and to stay within your relative comfort zone knowledge-wise. Faking it can lead to failing it. And it can cost you dearly in terms of credibility, which is disastrous short- and long-term.
Fortunately, you can hire expertise and knowledge. When time is short and you can’t easily get up-to-speed on the issues, invest in an expert advisor. Their credibility and ability to give your negotiation a fresh look can be invaluable.
Whether it’s a financial expert who can analyze a business’ accounting practices, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer or business consultant who can tell you what similar companies have sold for in the past, or a colleague who is extremely knowledgeable on the issues on the table, good experts are worth their weight in gold.
A friend and former client recently bought a house here in Scottsdale. While he’s pretty knowledgeable about construction, he’s no expert. And he had a very limited amount of time in which to determine whether and how much to bid for the house, which he wanted to renovate. So he hired an expert to evaluate what needed to be done and its cost. Money very well spent.
Asking for advice here, also, is a sign of strength – not a weakness. Knowing your limitations, and shoring them up, will almost always increase your ability to achieve your goals.
3. Strengthen your leverage
Leverage is perhaps the single greatest factor determining your ability to achieve success in negotiations. Strong leverage can hide and/or overcome many other weaknesses. And weak leverage will often shine a light on liabilities in other areas.
So when time is tight and you lack knowledge relating to issues on the table, spend your limited time and resources trying to maximize your leverage. How? At the least, seek a better alternative (Plan B) to a deal with your current counterpart (your Plan A).
If Company A offered you a job that seems good but gave you a short deadline in which to accept or reject it, talk with Company B too.
It will be well worth your time.
Latz’s Lesson: When time and knowledge is short, don’t stress. Just put your negotiation expertise to work, call an expert, and take the time to develop a strong Plan B.
Published May 13, 2016 NegotiationInstitute.com