It's All ABout Prep

Jul 09 • Ilona Nurmela • Comments: 0
How much do you really prepare before negotiations? Do you wing it, because you’re highly adaptable? Or do you do thorough research? Or do you use a negotiation approach once taught to you by your mentor?

With negotiations, it’s all about the prep. Not just knowing why you want to conclude that deal or why resolving the dispute is important (interests and risks), but also knowing the soft stuff - your own default reactions, strong suits and weak points. We often ignore the soft stuff, ours and theirs. Had I known that one party in mediation expresses herself mostly in examples and stories, I would have scheduled for more time. Also, trust me, knowing what kind of behaviour annoys you and how to deal with it should it come up has kept me level headed in a few heated discussions. There have also been spectacular fails where not knowing or not caring about the other person’s fears, wants and needs have cost me a few professional relationships. Hey, nobody’s perfect, if to quote Osgood Fielding the third from “Some Like It Hot”.

Why is prep important? In negotiations, in the golden triangle of “me-them-desired outcome”, if you concentrate only on what YOU want, you’re actually focusing not on 1/3 of the game, but on a mere 1/6.

Let me explain the math.

Knowing the ME part of the triangle - your own mind, wants, needs, preferences/filters/biases and social communication style (aka the soft stuff) - is just 1/3 of the prep. If you want to add to that what you think the other person knows/thinks or doesn’t know about you, the more power to you. When you’re trying to buy a punnet of strawberries, trying to anticipate whether the seller knows that you don’t have a fridge is probably a bit excessive. Meanwhile, knowing that the funders don’t know how exactly you intend to use their funds and that explaining this might make all the difference in driving the negotiations forward. If you’re an experienced negotiator, you will add to this ME part the knowledge about your own body language and facial micro expressions. If you know you shrug inadvertently when you don’t like something or that you smile a telling smile when you think you’ve won, you can modify your behaviour (apparently not micro expressions, though) and avoid sending the wrong signals.

The second 1/3 of the prep is knowing the wants, needs, preferences and psychology of your negotiation partner - the THEM part of the triangle. Why is it important? It’s the most important part, actually. In all communication, starting from the place of another, his/her interests, needs, wants and desires is what generates understanding and better results. Why? Would you approach the situation differently if you knew that the sale of the shares of a company is necessary to get rid of you as the difficult partner or to generate cash for another business venture? The key question is - why does the other person want this deal or to resolve this situation?

The OUTCOME - the deal, the solution to a conflict or anything you want someone else to agree on - is the last 1/3 of the prep. Of course, thinking through what YOU want out of this interaction is a must, be it negotiating a purchase of shares for an acceptable price or where to vacation next with your spouse. You will do well to think what outcome the other party might want - e.g. the price of your exit they would be willing to pay or the dream destination of your spouse.

The last third of this 1/3 is figuring out - BEFOREHAND! - what the JOINT SOLUTION might be. ME+THEM. Together. Where do our underlying interests meet? Focusing on possible joint solutions speeds up negotiations - enabling to build golden bridges and making it hard for the others to say no.

If to conclude our math:

- if you only concentrate on what YOU want, you’re missing 5/6 of the picture; AND

- if you concentrate only on the OUTCOME - preferred yours, assumed theirs and probable range of joint options - and ignore the soft stuff of ME+THEM prep, you’re still missing 2/3 of the picture.

I, personally, use a wide range of tools for preparing for negotiations - tools for calm, tools for power-upping - for prepping my mind and the body before important negotiations. Researching my partners and their representatives (Google is my best friend) is a default approach. In complex deals, where there are lots of people involved, mindmaps and power maps and 7-element tools have proved to be useful. I also guesstimate what is it that the others need, want or desire, why they are considering agreeing something new or different from status quo or why is it that they don’t want to play ball. The key for playing around with a multitude of possible joint solutions is not to get fixated on any one of these ideas as a preferred solution. Guesstimating is just prep. Validation comes when you get to ask questions when you actually talk to people. Joint VIABLE solutions materialise with the input of all those involved.

And yes, there are unimportant negotiations where you can ease on the prep and still achieve great results if you remain open, constructive and respectful.

How do YOU prep? For asking your boss for that raise or for “locking horns” with your opposing counsel? Are you mindful of the soft stuff or on 1/6 (I want x) or 1/3 (potential outcomes) only?

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