By Ian Newall — Business Manager, Open Courses, Huthwaite

What happens in the average negotiation? A few greetings, a little sharing of information, followed by some hard bargaining or, worse still, hard haggling?

The risk is that the negotiators rush into a solution that is less than optimal or worse still, a solution that cannot be implemented.

So what happens when skilled negotiators are involved?

Firstly, skilled negotiators appreciate the importance of having several issues on the table. This way they can bargain or trade one issue against another. Say, payment terms against delivery requirements or price against time schedule. When there is only one issue on the table, usually price, there is nothing to bargain with and the process degenerates into a haggle. This is also covered in an earlier article about the importance of selling first and negotiating later — you can only trade something if the other side ascribes some value to it and that will only happen if you have sold them the value of it.

Secondly, skilled negotiators recognise the value of looking for a creative solution. In many cases, the parties to a negotiation become so involved in trying to concede as little as possible to the other side that they miss the opportunity to develop a solution that will give them, and often the other side as well, a better outcome.

Fisher and Ury use the example of two sisters arguing about an orange. Both want the orange so their mother cuts the orange into two and each sister gets half the orange. But what if one sister wants the orange rind for cake that she is baking and the other wants the juice? The solution of cutting the orange in two only partly meets the needs of the each sister.

Although the example of the orange may be far removed from the day-to-day realities of modern business, opportunities do exist. The buyer thumping the table, demanding 24-hour delivery, faced by a seller arguing to justify the cost of 24-hour supply, may be missing the obvious: on-site storage at the buyer’s premises.

So how should we ensure that we don’t miss opportunities to develop options in a negotiation? In the average negotiation described at the start of this article both sides have leapt into bargaining without considering the information that they have gleaned from the other side up to that point.

Once we are sure that we fully understand what the other side is looking for, what the difficulties are that they are facing, their fears and their aspirations we may be in a better position to develop options that we hadn’t thought of before we came into the negotiation.

We may try to develop options right there with the other side. However, this seldom occurs in negotiations unless there is a high degree of trust between the parties. At the least it is advisable to take a time-out from the negotiation and consider the options that are available. If we are negotiating in a team it is an opportunity to brainstorm options away from the pressures of the negotiation or to suspend the negotiation at this stage so that we can consult with our stakeholders then come back at a later date.

Taking a breather before starting to bargain allows us to ‘look before we leap’, to make sure that we are not missing any vital information that should be taken into account in our proposals.

Huthwaite International

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