I live a double life. When people find out what I do for a living, misconceptions abound. People’s expectations of me change. Some are intrigued. Others go on the defensive. Some think I possess superpowers while others want to see how good I am. It can be a challenge and I’m not alone. In fact, these wild assumptions impact many professionals just like me.
It’s true - when people find out I’m a negotiation consultant they make some wild assumptions about what I can and can’t do. Worst part is that when people know they are negotiating with a negotiation consultant they tend to be far more competitive than they need to be or they get really nervous because they are afraid I’m going to unleash some magic spell to separate them from their money. Sadly, there’s no magic spell. Just a proven process and a lot of experience negotiating. But those assumptions can make negotiations a lot more difficult - not just for me, but for any negotiation.
I had a recent negotiation with a media company. Before they gave me the quote, the principal partner told me, “this is the quote... we mean it… don’t try any of your little tricks.” I did my best to help them with their assumptions about me. But in the end, they let their assumptions get the better of themselves. They became so defensive and worried about the “trick” that they couldn’t see the opportunity and ultimately we had to walk away.
Managing assumptions are critical in any negotiation. Both the ones you have of others and the ones they are making about you. In some negotiations, I’m ok if the other party assumes I have more leverage than I really do but in other negotiations, that may be a bad assumption as it will lead to unproductive behavior of the other party. In my experience, it’s important to separate out truth from fiction quickly so you can accurately assess the negotiating table.
Here’s what I do to deal with assumptions:
- Make a list. It starts with writing down all the assumptions I have of the other party or the situation at hand. I will add to this list as new assumptions come up during the negotiation.
- Test assumptions. Before I act on my assumptions, I try to validate or invalidate those assumptions by asking questions. There’s an entire art to asking questions, but sometimes I’m straight forward and other times I more indirect in my questions as to not tip my hand.
- Reassess strategy. My initial strategy in any negotiation is based on educated assumptions. Once I’m able to test my assumptions, I reevaluate my strategy, adjust where necessary, and then go forward with confidence.
There’s no tricks. Just a process. So the next time you negotiate, test your assumptions and don’t let them get the better of you. And if we ever negotiate, please forget that I do this for a living!