What to do before negotiating

Posted 8/4/14

While most articles on negotiating focus on tactics during negotiations, less attention is paid to preparing yourself before negotiations ever get underway. This negotiation “advance work” is just as important as what you do in the negotiation itself.

Recently, I came across some sound advice on prenegotiation skills offered by Steven Blum, who teaches at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here are seven things that Blum – author of “Use Proven Negotiation Skills to Enrich Your Financial Life” – says you should focus on to start off on the right foot:

• Define what you don’t want as clearly as what you do want. One of the most important things you can do before you negotiate anything is figure out what you are really trying to achieve.

• Be clear on your BATNA. That stands for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. You should never accept a deal unless it is better than your next-best alternative.

• Don’t think in terms of win-win. It’s tempting to do this. Win-win seems like a great way to maintain a positive relationship with the other side. But Blum warns that this approach can backfire, causing you both to settle for the first plausible solution that improves everyone’s position. You can probably do better.

• Research the other side’s interests. The more you know about the other side, the better. “If the agreement doesn’t meet the needs of the other parties, they won’t agree to the deal,” said Blum. “They will seek ways to sabotage, escape or otherwise not comply.”

• Know where to place your trust. “The best advice is to always act in a trustworthy manner but don’t assume others will do the same,” said Blum. “And never trust anyone whose incentives and interests suggest strong motivation for them to deceive.”

• Prepare your questions. Great negotiators spend almost 40 percent of their time acquiring information (asking questions) and clarifying information (restating and reframing what they’ve heard). But average negotiators spend only about 18 percent of their time doing the same. “The key is to ask previously prepared questions and, just as important, listen well enough to pose precise follow-up questions,” said Blum. “Strong listening skills, along with good preparation and the ability to express thoughts clearly, are among the top traits of the most-effective negotiators.”

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