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Negotiation Challenges

Adapted from Tero's Beyond Compromise: A Better Way To Negotiate Training Manual


A number of things can occur in a negotiation that can be especially challenging. Anticipating challenges and developing strategies to deal with them can be helpful when they happen.

Below are some common negotiation challenges and strategies for handling them. By being able to recognize them, you will be in a better position to handle them effectively. By being conscious of them, you will be less likely to inadvertently use one yourself.

Time Pressure

The other party, early in the negotiation, says "let's skip the haggling, just give me your best price". Whether you are negotiating a price for a product, the start date for a project, or how many resources you can temporarily loan to another department, beware if the other party puts you under unexpected time pressure and attempts to push you straight to your fallback position.

Try responding, "I'd like to give you my best price but until I've learned more about your requirements, I don't know what my best price is." Sidestepping the request and signaling that you need information is a good countermeasure because you have agreed that you want to learn the needs of the other party.

Another Decision-maker

Well into the negotiations, you discover that you are not talking to a decision-maker. He or she leaves the room and returns five minutes later saying that the boss will not agree unless another x percent is conceded. That point is negotiated and the party disappears again asking for another concession. Sometimes, they don't even leave the room - they simply say "my boss would never agree to that".

Insist on discussing matters with the decision-maker or resurrect matters that the other party thought were already agreed. "If you want delivery in two weeks and an x percent discount we'll have to take another look at quantity." With this countermeasure you are not only sidestepping the attempted manipulation but also effectively encouraging the other person to be open and honest. That way you can arrive at an agreement with which you both feel comfortable.

Delay Tactics

This is a tactic that senior people frequently use on more junior people. It is a way of saying, "I'm calling the shots around here because I'm the more important person." Their hope is that you will become more nervous, or that the effect on your schedule will cause you to feel under pressure and so you will agree to what they want in order to keep the discussion short.

An effective countermeasure, assuming you do not want to reschedule the meeting, is always to bring some work or reading along with you. That way the attempt at pressure becomes a gift of time during which you do some work that you would not otherwise have done. Alternatively, you can use the time for some last-minute preparation. Finally, if the time available for the meeting becomes too tight you may have no alternative but to reschedule. If the delay was genuinely unavoidable, the other party will understand. If it was an attempt to manipulate you, he or she will see it will not work and be less inclined to try it on you in the future.

Last-minute Wavering

Just when you think that negotiations are over and you have reached agreement, the other party begins wavering over some seemingly trivial point. The other party knows that your defenses are down as the negotiation nears completion and they ask for another concession. Actually, the other party can waver several times, squeezing several additional concessions from you each time.

Your defense is to remember that every time he or she raises another issue, points that have been previously agreed to can be brought back for discussion using the word if. As in, "I can consider this new point but only if we reconsider...." If the new point is genuine the other party will not mind resurrecting a previously agreed to one; if the new point is not genuine, the other party will retract it.

An Early Concession

Some negotiators begin with an early concession and then wait for you to reciprocate and in the spirit of relationship-building, you probably will.

Thank them, remember the concession for later, and continue exploring.

Aggressive Behaviors

Sarcastic comments, patronizing, bullying, attempts to make you feel guilty, attempts to make you feel inferior, bribery, belittling remarks and dismissive words are all forms of inappropriate influencing. They are designed to help the other person "win" at your expense.

Sometimes these aggressive behaviors work. They get us what we want, but only in the short term and at a long term cost. Behaviors such as these can create resentment, lack of ownership of what has been agreed to, lack of initiative from other people when problems arise, withdrawal of goodwill, poor relationships, and retaliation.

If we communicate with people openly, honestly and above all, respectfully, we tend to avoid these problems. While communicating with people this way does not guarantee that we shall achieve our short terms goals (although the chances are certainly increased) we usually experience long term benefits because people prefer being treated this way.

Linking Logic

This is based on the assumption that if a person is correct in one thing, he or she must be correct in another. So, in a debate about modern technology, one person could ask the other, "Would you give up your cell phone?". Since the answer is probably no, he or she has just strengthened his/her argument. The fact that your resistance to the technology the other party is promoting and your decision to carry a cell phone are unconnected may escape your attention.

Your best defense against this form of manipulation is asking questions. You need to get to the bottom of the other person's point to see if the logic he or she is applying is sound or not.

Price-only Negotiation

Negotiators who pay attention exclusively to price turn potentially cooperative deals into adversarial ones. While price is an important factor in most deals, it is rarely the only one.

People care about much more than the absolute level of their own economic outcome. Competing interests include relative results, perceived fairness, self-image, reputation, and so on. Successful negotiators, acknowledging that economics aren't everything, focus on important non-price factors such as relationships (short- and long-term) and the larger interests. Less experienced negotiators often undervalue the importance of developing working relationships with the other parties, putting the relationship at risk by overly tough tactics of simple neglect. This is especially true cross-culturally.

Letting Positions Override Interests

Despite the clear advantages of reconciling deeper interests, people have a built-in bias toward focusing on their own positions instead. This hardwired assumption that our interests are incompatible implies a zero-sum pie in which my gain is your loss.

Issues - topic on the table for agreement

Positions - one party's stands on the issues

Interests - underlying concerns that would be affected by the resolution

Reconciling interests to create value requires patience and a willingness to research the other side, ask many questions, and listen.

Neglecting the Other Side's Problem

You can't negotiate effectively unless you understand your own interests and your own no-deal options. But there is much more to it than that. Since the other side will say "yes" for its reasons, not yours, agreement requires understanding and addressing the other party's problem as a means to solving your own.

Successful negotiators agree that overcoming this self-centered tendency is critical. Spend time trying to understand how the poor man or woman on the other side of the table is going to sell this deal to his or her boss. Before you can change a person's mind, you have to first learn where that person's mind is.


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