5 Tips for breaking ineffective negotiation patters

Negotiation trainings are among my favourite trainings to give. While you read this newsletter or blog, I’m conducting a 3-day training Business Communication & Negotiation in Mechelen, Belgium, while two weeks ago I did the same workshop in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

These trainings start with a thorough review of the principles of negotiation: opening bids, timeline, win-win or win-lose, interests nd positions etc. In the course of the 3 days we shift our attention to advanced negotiation tactics, the impact of culture on negotiations and the dirty tricks and tactics (that of course nobody will use themselves, but everybody wants to be able to recognize)…

We also go through a lot of real-life negotiation cases, looking for breakthrough moments that can change the entire course of a negotiation. This is the part where I keep learning myself, from the diverse examples participants bring in, and the shared analysis of these cases looking into what works well, and what works less well.The 5 biggest tips for me are those:

Get to the other side of the table.

Not mentally, but physically. Sit next to your opponents, and propose them to look at the joint problem. Bundle forces to solve the problem together. The other party will be surprised when you sit next to them, but the move will often be well appreciated (especially in most collectivistic and long-term oriented cultures, that look for a strong mutual relationship of which both parties will benefit in the future). This is not only a good strategic move, but also does it force the two parties into different and more productive mindsets: the ‘I won, you lose’ pattern is interrupted, and there is room to focus on mutual gains.

Be open on your interests.

In negotiation, there is a difference between your interests (what you want to achieve) and your positions (what you say you want to achieve). If I want to buy the car for no more than 5.000$ (my interest), I may do a first bid of 3.700$ (my position). When haggling over positions is ineffective, then openly share your interests with the other party: “I am interested in the car and have a budget of 5.000$ max; now I do not want to spend all of that, but I still hope we can find each other somewhere in the middle. Can you be open on your interests as well?”. Again, they may be surprised about your openness, but there’s a good chance the sales guy will appreciate your move and share theirs as well. From this moment on, there is room for integration; how can the two of you solve the puzzle with the two differing interests?

Discuss the dirty tactics of the other party in public.

An often used negotiation tactic is to play ‘good cop, bad cop’, when one negotiator is the tough guy who has very extreme demands, and his or her partner is the nice one who proposes to settle. This tactic is effective, as the bad cop lowers your expectations on what you can achieve, while the good cop convinces you to give in. When confronted with this tactic, put it on the table: “It seems you are using ‘good cop bad cop’ here, and that is fine. I see why you do this. Now, I want to ask you to look a bit better at my interests, before we refer to tactics to get quickly what we want”. The tactics won’t work anymore now, as you have openly stated you know their tactics. You have effectively said: “That don’t impress me much”. Your procedural intervention may turn out to be very effective.

Be careful with concessions.

We all know that negotiation is about differing positions, and then making concessions to bridge the gap such that the interests of both parties are still met. There’s two important tips for handling concessions: 1) wait with concession making until later in the negotiation; the first 70% of your negotiation should be fact-finding, and getting to know each other and the interests of each other, the remaining 30% is real negotiation, 2) for each concession, ask something in return (avoid that concessions are one-way traffic, so make your concessions conditional). Especially Western cultures like ours are stressed and under time pressure: we want to move fast and solve dispute quickly and smoothly. This drives us into concession-making mode way too quickly in a negotiation, and we give away too much generally by forgetting to ask something in return. So be patient next time!

Be constructive and authentic.

People quickly associate negotiation with ‘win-lose’ and with fighting; this is especially true for masculine cultures. Given that The Netherlands is among the most feminine countries in the world, this mindset can de dropped easily and yield results that are more in-line with our true nature. Dutch are good at concession making, and compromising (‘polderen’). Make use of this. Don’t force yourself into unnecessary ‘fighting mindsets’ as they are not authentic for most of us. Be yourself in the negotiation, and work constructively towards the best possible outcome. You’ll be surprised how much the other party is willing to appreciate your honesty, and return the favor!

Although all these tips sound like ‘common sense’, they are not. It takes courage and a good feeling for timing to use these tips constructively in a negotiation, such that a breakthrough is enforced before deadlock sets in. I’d like to hear your comments on your ‘breakthrough tactics’ in negotiatons!

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