Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Negotiating: Make it about THEM

I've historically pursued win-win negotiations. This approach has served me well, with everyone feeling like they gotten a fair deal. But there were those occasional deals (typically multi-million dollar contracts) in which the other side seemed to be reading from a different script and the negotiation was much harder. Understanding how those negotiating teams work was critical to learning how to succeed with them. Understanding them opened the door to greater success in all negotiations.

Here are a few observations I've made over the years. Many thanks to Jim Camp, author of Start with No, for helping me gel them into concrete thoughts. For the record, I highly recommend the book.


Neediness is deadly in a negotiation... you've got to become a master at recognizing the adversary's neediness. The need may be a business condition your solution will resolve, but just as often it's a personal compulsion by the other person to be perceived as smart, likeable, competent, or important. Listen for both need types, because the other party's needs will be the keys to success. Understand these needs - the areas they touch, their depth, their ramifications. Once you have a handle on them, frame everything in terms of these needs.

Regarding your own neediness, do all you can to avoid revealing it. Understand your corporate needs and your own personal needs (struggles?) and then commit to avoid any actions that would reveal them. When I was in technology sales, a key challenge was that once I committed myself to a deal pursuit, I needed it to happen. If it faltered, I had consumed corporate resources and time I could have used to meet my quota via other pursuits. In short, the political and financial price of failure was very high, and that made me need the deal.

How have I learned to recognize (and/or reveal) others' neediness? Listen for it. As is the case in so many other scenarios, he who speaks the most loses. When I'm talking, I'm guaranteed to share needs sooner or later - it's unavoidable. When the adversary is talking, they'll share theirs. Watch your own speech closely and encourage your adversary to talk by asking lots of questions about their world. Speaking of questions...

Question, don't state.
Who is a new person you met recently that you really enjoyed meeting? Seriously, stop now and think about it.

Note how you have to own the question and think about what matters to you. You're thinking about your world. Asking questions keeps your adversary focused on their world and the outcome they desire while giving you greater insight into the vision you should be promoting as you make it all about them. So ask good questions and listen to the answers. Here are a few great questions to consider:
- What is the biggest obstacle we face in this negotiation?
- What happens if nothing changes in your current scenario?
- What would you like for me to do?
- How can I help you succeed?
- What are your thoughts?
- Who will pull the right people together within your organization?
- Why did your boss want you and me to speak?
- What else needs to happen? (aka: Where are we in the process?)
- What role does Mary plan in this?
- How will what we're working on impact your business?
- How will you know if this was the right thing to do?
- How critical is the timing of this?

Also, avoid the urge to help them answer these questions. It's normal to feel an urge to tee up the anticipated answers, but it sets up a no-win situation. If you're wrong you look bad. If you're even close to being right, they'll grab your answer and you'll miss out on other insights you may have gained. The goal is to understand and step into their world. Remember, you may be helpful and look impressive if you show insight into their world but your job is to be effective, not impress them.

Another thought on Questions
When asked a question about an important negotiation variable or that touch on your needs, it's best to reverse it. Acknowledge it politely, and then reverse it. Gaining info before answering expands your understanding of their world while not painting yourself into a corner.

  • Q: "What do you think is the best thing for us to do?"
  • A: "I've been mulling this one over and haven't yet come to a conclusion. Your opinion matters a lot to me... what are your thoughts?"

  • Q: "When will you want access to the space?"
  • A: "That will be very important to my client, I'm glad you bring it up. What is the earliest you think it could be made available?"

What do I DO with their needs?
You are at the negotiating table because of what your adversary can do for your organization, but it is imperative to forget what your organization needs from them. Instead, think only of what the adversary needs. Throughout the negotiation, phrase everything in terms of their needs and remind them of how these needs are going to be met, whether the needs reside within the organization or within the individual. Paint a picture and keep painting it throughout. And keep tabs on these needs, as they may evolve through the negotiation or differ among individuals.

Here's to your continued success!

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