Three Major Negotiation Challenges (and How to Overcome Them)

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.



Three Major Negotiation Challenges (and How to Overcome Them)

Deepak Malhotra's latest book  discusses the importance of negotiating effectively when confronted with near-impossible scenarios. For this post, Deepak chose three common negotiation tactics that can throw up a roadblock and explains how to avoid them:

Tactic #1: "We will never..." [They are making ultimatums]

What You Do: My usual approach to ultimatums--regardless of what type of negotiation it is or how the ultimatum was delivered--is simple: I completely ignore it. I don’t ask people to repeat or clarify ultimatums. Why? Many ultimatums are not true deal-breakers. Sometimes people are just emotional, or trying to assert control, or using strong language in an attempt to gain advantage. In all of these cases, it will be easier to defuse the ultimatum if you have not engaged with or legitimized it. How so? Because there may come a day—a week from now, a month from now, or years from now—when the other side realizes that what they said they could never do, they must do, or what they said they would never accept is actually in their best interest to accept. When that day comes, the last thing I need is for them to remember having said that they will never do so—because they will not be able to say yes without losing face. Too often, people will escalate matters, or go against their own best interests, if that’s the only way to save face.
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Tactic #2: "Just one more thing..." [They keep adding conditions after you feel you have finalized an agreement]

What You Do: It’s important to distinguish between two (of multiple) possibilities: they think you are totally committed to making the deal and so they can take advantage of this, or their additional demands are truly important to them and they really need you to agree to these changes. You have multiple options, but here is something that I do often: I will explain that if something is truly important to them, I certainly want to understand why and work with them to accommodate any legitimate concerns. But I am not willing to negotiate an individual issue in isolation—especially at this stage in the negotiation. If they need adjustments, we will also have to discuss what kinds of concessions they are willing to make in exchange. If this is really important to them, they should be willing to show flexibility on other issues of value to me.
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Tactic #3: "Great! Now let me double-check with my boss..." [The process is not what you expected]

What You Do: One piece of advice I give often is to negotiate process before substance. For example: you’ve been negotiating for months, and just when you think the deal is done, they tell you that they need another six months, or that others need to sign off on it, or that they are now going to shop around your offer. Many of these problems stem from a failure of not having negotiated process before substance. In other words, before getting too deep into deal terms, you want to get more information about (and try to shape) the process—i.e. how you will get from where you are today to the finish line. This includes discussing questions such as: How long does it take an organization like yours to do a deal like this? Who are all the people who need to be on board? What might speed up or slow down the process? What will we discuss in the meeting next week, and when will we cover the other concerns we have? When you negotiate process before substance, you make it less likely that you make substance mistakes later on.