Negotiations are often formulaic. Management, for example, go into a negotiation fully expecting the union to make the first proposal. This approach has been accepted as the norm for so many years that somehow, it is seen as “not the done thing” to do anything different. If management is keen to put a radical new proposition on the table, then “waiting for the union to make the first proposal” is obviously silly; but it’s amazing how often negotiators blindly follow procedure and do just that.
I have often heard it said – and typically at drinks parties when someone finds out what I do for a living! – that the secret of great negotiators is “never to tell people what you really want”. So let’s take the combination of these two techniques – “letting the other side lead with their proposal as a matter of course”, and “never letting the other side know what you want” and see what happens.
Party One: “Make me an offer”.
Party Two: “No”.
Party One: “Oh – go on”.
Party Two: “No”.
Party One: “No, really. Make me a very generous offer that meets all my needs and expectations.”
Party Two: “Which bit of ‘No’ was it that you weren’t getting”. Your proposal is outrageous”
Party One: “But I haven’t made a proposal”
Party Two: “Exactly. And the answer’s still No.”
I’m a great believer in being transparent about my expectations during a meeting. The earlier I can communicate to the other side what it is that I want, the more time the other side has to work out the circumstances in which they can give me just that. That is especially true when what I want is either controversial or a long way removed from the status quo. In these kinds of circumstances, it becomes really important to be absolutely specific about exactly what it is that I need. Are there any exceptions to that basic rule – tell people what you want? There are maybe a few
But generally, telling the other side what you want is the way forward. Constant reinforcement of that position is also important. Put what you need on the table and stay there. Anchor the position by constantly reinforcing it and not moving from it. This idea that somehow you should ask for twice what you need, then haggle is old hat and can damage your long-term relationships. What you may need to do is be flexible in other areas to protect the areas where you can’t.
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