Beware – Just because someone is at the negotiating table it does not mean that they are there to negotiate.
So why are they sitting there?
- To weigh up the other party / parties – look into their (your) eyes and see what level of confidence shows.
- To discover what the (your) real issues and priorities are; so use the meeting as part of the dialogue phase.
- To work out the probable tactics and strategies that might be used on both sides.
- To learn more about the other (your) negotiator’s motivations, values, experience, skills.
- To be seen to be “negotiating” to satisfy the audience (gallery) and so give an appearance of reasonableness.
- To waste time by making unreasonable demands – create arguments – tie up key people and resources on the other side – buy time to make moves outside the room – gather more intelligence from other sources – use the delays to make other deals with other parties. Argument causes deadlock and halts progress.
Remember when we negotiate it is to get something or to avoid something. The others objective may just to gather information – ours may be not to give anything away.
There is a very high risk that if you do not finish your homework sorting out what you want (or want to avoid) it might lead to the opposite result to the one for which you planned ending in a No Deal, a Lose / Lose, or worse! After all, if you do not know what you want, then no one else will.
Professional negotiators are diligent in the way they investigate, challenge, distil, and set the objectives they will work to. The best negotiators are crystal clear, not only about what they want, but also about what they want to avoid! Constant priority checking and continually asking why? Why is that important? Why is that not?
Further, when acting as agents on behalf of others (the most common situation), they press their client hard (leader – the one setting the objective) to establish the “real” limits, walk away points, essentials, non-negotiables – so important to know before being able to develop strategies and tactics and to weigh up all the options about information, proposals, style, relationships and much more.
One has to be so careful that by pursuing a goal blindly without attention to consequences and identifying what must be avoided, one might imperil one’s organisation, business, stability and in very extreme circumstances – existence.
As a negotiator one has to constantly be sifting through issues, goals, concerns, opinions, and facts to refine one’s goals. At the same time making sure that one resists the temptation to rush ahead and start strategizing before the desired outcome has been identified precisely.
The crime is in not setting clear specific realistic goals and to leave this activity until the negotiations have started. Worse – using the other side’s opening to influence one’s own position. Dangerous, weak and in many ways not negotiating – it’s a form of surrender – slow surrender.
This is why our Sharppractices are so useful and popular. They help the professional negotiator prepare in such a way as to have the right team, right place, right time, right preparation and planning – building negotiating confidence.
Last year I included the following as part of one of my Blogs – It is even more valid today.
Trust is built up over time between parties. It becomes established as agreements are honoured exactly as agreed – not just once, but every time.
Trust is a major part of a relationship, a corner stone.
Trust allows each side to “know” how the other party will act, not just an expectation but a promise that will be fulfilled.
One can expect (and be right) that secrets and confidences will be kept. The parties know if the trust is ever broken it can never be repaired.
Deals will be delivered to the letter – exactly as agreed, not distorted, misinterpreted, reneged upon or ignored and forgotten.
If changes have to be made they will be discussed and agreed in advance.
The parties know the value of trust (and the cost of losing it).
Trust is very difficult to maintain because:
Employees are for ever changing.
Market and economic pressures do not remain constant.
Greed for profit / commission or bonus have a negative impact – relationships are expendable when there is a quick profit to be made.
When an individual does not understand complexity, consequence, sustainability and the long term, they do not understand trust, relationships, integrity and partnership.
Recently Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, appeared to taunt the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, by indicating that the “Make me an offer” game being played by the UK showed a weak position.
It is interesting that the “Make me an offer” tactic was highlighted as it is the first tactic I have to cover on the first morning of the first day of my courses. Why? well because it is the most common tactic used by participants – from MBA students to highly experienced Directors of global corporates. But whilst it is not always weak, it is used by many to hide a number of possibilities.
- No Preparation – If you do not know what you want it makes it impossible to make the first move, so the initiative is handed to the other side of the table from the start. Setting up an outcome based on what the other side will let you have rather than what you want.
- Gambling Instinct – If I tell you what I want I limit what might be possible to win is the belief. The problem is that when I ask my students how often they get more than they planned to achieve, the weakness of the ploy is highlighted. Very very few gain more than they expect – and many curse themselves for handing over the initiative.The only market I work in regularly is the Venture Capital market, where an investor might play this game to find out just how much the owner of a business knows about the true value of his / her business. So many people in business do not know the real value of their business and how it can be used.
- Hagglers – If the negotiation is going to be one dimensional – just about price for example – hagglers try to get the other party to go first and then of course gain an advantage by forcing them to make the first move from this opening position. The scale of the first move means that the party going second can always make smaller steps and control where the deal will be done.
- Slow Surrender – very similar to haggling but without any understanding of how haggling really works. This slow surrender approach means that the parties move towards each other by making excuses, splitting differences, meeting half way. This is not negotiating and neither party gets a good deal if they are having to surrender.
It would appear from some views that Theresa May is believed to have “persuaded” the EU negotiators to allow the UK to move forward to the second phase in order that the process of agreeing a new trade relationship can begin. I would think that this is far from the reality. However it highlights the different perceptions of Politicians, Journalists and Professional Negotiators.
It is absolutely clear from where I am sitting that the EU team led by Michel Barnier has a clear control of the process at this point in time. He and his team have met two key objectives so far – 1. Keeping the 27 member countries calm and together by using the power of the proposal. 2. Discovering through this control as much as possible about the state of readiness, clarity, skill level and negotiating ability of the UK team.
The EU have had to use fine judgement in how far to push / frustrate the UK Government team and the British Parliament. There remains quite a sizeable group across the EU and within Brussels who believe that there may still be a chance of a change in heart by the UK, which is why every opportunity is used to question how well the consequences have been thought through and to remind the UK that they already have a deep and special relationship.
The desired objective of keeping the door open for the UK to remain in the EU is a fine judgement while protecting the interests of the 27 who are eyeing up opportunities. There will be a one off opportunity to grab business and operations currently based in the UK while the UK is working to assumption rather than fact.
However, it is clear that the present UK leadership have been desperate to move forward to discuss / negotiate a trade deal. So desperate as to be easily moved to concession. They have broken one of the fundamental lessons – Tell people what you want BUT NOT how badly you want it (need it)! The desperation made it easy for Barnier to string out the game, build up the time pressure and have the UK dance to the EU’s agenda.
The first phase has provided the EU team with considerable information about the UK’s style and understanding of the process. It would appear that the UK team are reactive, allowing others to dictate agenda, objective and process. There is confusion between objective and strategy. The UK has a mandate from the voting population to leave the EU – the answer to a question that no true leader would have asked. There was no instruction to negotiate a new trade deal prior to leaving; in fact getting bogged down, and putting the UK’s credibility at risk is very dangerous going forward.It exposes a current lack of genuine leaders coming forward and a weakness in the UK’s system of democracy and unity as a kingdom.
The decision by the EU and Ireland to allow for a recommendation to the 27 that sufficient progress had been made with regard to the three agenda items set as pre-condition bargaining items is interesting. If this decision had not been made it might have sunk Theresa May and led to possible changes at the top of the UK government that would not be helpful (to the EU). It is an important objective to keep the Prime Minister in place and David Davies leading the negotiations now that Michel Barnier has the measure of the UK team and knows their pressure points.
So whilst the politics may say that Mrs May has lived to fight another day and keep a job that possibly no-one wants at the moment; it is the EU that has everything under control and protected by nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Finally, there is the promise to secure the best deal for the UK. The “best deal” will be the worst deal that the 27 EU members can accept / live with. Given the performance during the first phase the UK already has lost the opportunity for the very best deal and “best” is declining all the time that the UK remains in reactive mode.
So, who around you has what it takes? Have you looked after them during the good times so that they will stay with you and be ready to cope with the tough ones ahead? Who are the ones with real talent who need to be better equipped to succeed and prepared to take on more responsibility? Who is ready to take on your challenges?
Now is the time to “cut the crap” and focus on development that really makes a difference and will give a real return; training and coaching that will draw out the talent, build the confidence, excite, energise and motivate.
Profit from adversity – be courageous – use the time – build the team.
Setting a conciliatory tone can be dangerous if not thought through carefully. It could signal weakness, over keenness to close a deal or just indicate a lack of preparation or experience. Trying to be more flexible without setting clear conditionality on that flexibility let’s the other side know that their strategy is working.
Perception here is key. The EU has clear prime objectives. The desired position of the member states, MEPs and the Commission in Brussels is that the UK does not leave the Union, which means that things will be dragged out. Tactics to frustrate, deadlock and block will be common. Arguments will be critical of the UK’s position and questions will constantly probe the politicians’ commitment to go through to a deal. There will be insinuations that people do not know what they are doing. Proposals might be received as helpful but never enough; the bottom line is that the leaving does not go easily or profitably for Britain so as to discourage others from following. These objectives will not change while the U.K. shows a poor hand and indicates a lack of strong commitment to the prime objective (Brexit).
The rebuilding of relationships will come after the separation has been completed and probably not before.
Situations in which to be careful:
The skillful negotiator is collecting information all the time. One never knows when it will be useful or for which deal but it is very valuable. Collecting this intelligence comes from many sources: Networking events, corporate entertainment, formal dinners, speeches, debates, news interviews, listening while waiting in receptions, conference breakouts, hotels, airport lounges, rail journeys and so on. From many sources one is able to put together a clearer picture regarding goals and priorities for both (all) sides. This is particularly useful in understanding conflicts and the limits beyond which the sides are not prepared to go.
I was sitting in the reception of a conference centre watching and listening a while back. It was interesting to hear the Conference Manager say to a potential customer: “We try to get £150 per day for that particular room”. Oh dear.
It is common to see groups of business people meeting over coffee as they get ready for some meet or other. Quite often one hears them agree the lazy strategy for their meeting: “we’ll listen to what they say and take it from there.” Why wait to be told what they will give you when you can make your own proactive proposition.
It is worth auditing where and how you collect in your negotiating information. If you limit this activity to formal set piece meetings you are limiting your options. Rethink all the opportunities and increase your knowledge and success.
Structuring Expectations: Part One
The pre-negotiation phase: The negotiation has begun already!
Many people make the mistake of thinking that in the period running up to the formal start of a negotiation the parties are not negotiating. They could not be more wrong. The reality is that once one becomes aware that someone wants something, then the opportunity to make a deal means that the negotiation is off and running. From the moment this reality begins expectations are being structured. Every action, statement, move, meeting, event sends out messages as to the aspirations of the parties; how they intend to behave towards each other and indications as to the priorities they are working to. What they want and (often more importantly) what they want to avoid.
The unguarded are giving information away all the time and not realising it. Discipline and coordination in this phase are all important.
If the negotiating landscape has a considerable number of interested parties trying to influence objectives and strategy, discipline can become very problematic. An experienced negotiator can read much from watching from the other side. It provides useful information about how well prepared the other side is, what problems they are having within their team, who the key influencers may be, where the real power is and who the key decision maker is.
In this phase the internal conversations within one side maybe the real negotiation. It can be very difficult to get the clarity of objectives and priorities when there are too many fingers in the pie. But it gives away a lack of togetherness, conflicting objectives and strategies and possible lack of real negotiating knowledge and ability.
Sharpen up your skills at http://www.sharppractices.co.uk/negotiating_sharppractices.htm.