The Most Important Factor for Successful Negotiations
“Negotiating is, for most, an uncomfortable attempt at impromptu haggling. For the [skilled negotiator], it is a planned sequence of predictable objections and responses that can be orchestrated to produce the desired outcome. It’s like planning three or four moves ahead in chess, forcing an opponent to put themselves in checkmate.” – Timothy Ferris
A refined competence and excellence in negotiation is possibly the single most important skill for agents, and aspiring agents, to cultivate. For such an important skill, it is shocking that a number of agents will gloss over the one facet that success in negotiation often rests on. This very factor could easily decide whether you will succeed or fail during your negotiations. This factor is Preparation.
I recently completed a course in negotiation, arbitration, and mediation this past semester, and the one suggestion that stood out to me most was to always create an extremely detailed and intricate blueprint for any negotiation. With heavy preparation and a plan, surprises become predictable. You will be able to steer the negotiation in any direction you wish. And much like Mr. Ferris’ quote above, you will feel as if you are an athlete that is seeing a play develop two or three moves ahead.
As you take negotiation training classes or participate in your own negotiations, you will begin to get a feel for your strengths and weaknesses. You will be able to mold and craft your preparation and planning to maximize those strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Instead of having you start from scratch in constructing your negotiation blueprint, the following 11-point list will give you a basic framework and an excellent starting point. As you become more experienced, this outline should become more fluid. You will want to tweak your model after you debrief each of your negotiations to make it the most efficient and effective reflection of your own negotiating style.
The 11-point Framework for Negotiation Preparation:
Forecast, find, or plan for each of the following:
1. Your “resistance point” – minimum terms you would accept given your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Do not forget to include your monetary and nonmonetary transactions costs.
2. Your “target point” (best result you hope to achieve) – Be certain that your target point is sufficiently high. Never commence a negotiation until you have mentally solidified your ultimate objective.
3. Your educated estimate of your opponent’s “resistance point” – Be certain to include monetary and nonmonetary transaction costs when estimating the nonsettlement options that appear to be available to your opponent.
4. Your estimate of your opponent’s “target point” – Try to use your opponent’s value system when estimating his/her target point.
5. Your factual and legal leverage with respect to each issue (strengths and weaknesses) – Prepare logical explanations supporting each strength and articulate the ways in which you might minimize your weaknesses. What is the best alternative result you could achieve through other channels if no agreement can be attained through the negotiation process? What are the monetary, psychological, tax-related, temporal, etc., costs associated with settlement or nonsettlement.
6. Your opponent’s factual and legal leverage with respect to each issue – What counterarguments can you devise to challenge the assertions you expect your opponent to make.
7. Your planned opening position – Try to begin the process with an offer as far from your target point as you can rationally defend. Prepare logical explanations to support each component of your “principled” opening offer.
8. What information do you plan to elicit during the information gathering phase to determine the opponent’s underlying needs, interests, and objectives? What questions do you anticipate using?
9. What information are you willing to disclose and how do you plan to divulge it? How do you plan to prevent the disclosure of sensitive information?
10. Your negotiation strategy (agenda and tactics) – How do you envision moving from your opening position to where you wish to end up? Plan your anticipated concession pattern carefully to disclose only the information you intend to divulge and prepare “principled” explanations to support each planned concession.
11. Your prediction of your opponent’s negotiation strategy and your planned countermeasures – How might you neutralize your opponent’s strengths and exploit his or her weaknesses?
Sources: “Alternative Dispute Resolution: The Advocate’s Perspective”