The answer is hidden in the situation

We have two opposite forces pulling us apart. The one is a need for certainty and having things under control. The other is a need for change, creativity and unexpected things. Using both sides in balance is key to successful negotiations.

What happens when you overdose

If the over control side takes over the situation, people will force their arguments through just like they planned. It sounds like a good idea in theory but in practice it seldom is. Most of the times at least half of the sentences one planned on saying just don’t fit the situation. We think we know what are the important things regarding this discussion. Turns out they weren’t.

On the other hand, the care-free, creative, uncertainty-junkie arrives to the meeting completely unprepared. They haven’t thought beforehand what they want to achieve in the negotiation and therefore they get whatever happens to happen.

As quite often it is, the secret is in the happy medium. No news there. But here are few practical things I try to take into consideration in negotiations – succeeding sometimes better and sometimes worse.

First find out the borderlines and the arguments

It is a good idea to think through the borderlines of the conversation beforehand. Think what you’re aiming at and what would be the ideal solution or outcome. Think also about the negative outcomes. What will you not accept and what are you willing to sacrifice, if the situation gets really tough.

Argument things first to yourself and be thorough. Be also completely honest: why are the borderlines as they are? If you try to make things look better by lying to yourself, the other party in the conversation may see through you. They’ll have the upper hand if they know your motivation better than you.

Take a look at the opposite side of the table. Sketch the opponent, what’s their position, what they need and aim for. Pay attention to what they might feel, what they want and what they’re angry about. After that it is much easier to asses, what are your levers in the conversation and what are theirs.

Take your head out of the quicksand

After thorough preparation, be willing to change your plan and adapt your sentences as you go. Do not fall in love with your own opinions and arguments. Kill your darlings is a very good advice in negotiations as well. It is so much more important to leave some planned arguments unsaid if it takes you closer to your goal.

Ask more and listen carefully. Listen also to things that are left unsaid. Make notice of the gestures, tone-of-voice and chosen words as well. Change your own tone and approach according to what the situation feels like. And I really mean feel when I say feel.

Human being is an incredibly intuitive animal and what we call a “gut feeling” is often very accurate information. Especially when we pay attention to others’ moods, wants and goals, we really should tone down the analytical mind and experience the situation more with our senses. When we start to analyze we stop listening carefully which often leads back to trying to force our own arguments with wrong methods.

Which arguments to use? Where should I steer the conversation? What is happening now? The answer is hidden in the situation.

TL;DR: When there’s a negotiation, combine with right balance

  • Planning: what do I want to achieve and what are my preconditions
  • Preparing: who am I negotiating with and what are the goals, motivations and levers of each party around the table
  • Improvisation: listening carefully and changing the plan according to the situation

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