How can you avoid being pulled in opposite directions by contradictory imperatives? These three concrete steps can guide you through your next important negotiation.
Prepare and Head-Off Regret
In addition to preparation’s familiar benefits, consider that it also offers insurance against regret. Do as much as you reasonably can to get ready for a negotiation. Then, if the unforeseeable happens – say, budget constraints force your customer to cut his order in half – you may not like it, but at least you won’t be kicking yourself for being caught off guard. Instead, you can devote your full attention to playing the hand you’ve been dealt.
Presence of mind means being absorbed in the here and now, not lost in fruitless wishful thinking. Self-criticism is a distraction that erodes your confidence when you need it most. Put the past behind you, and focus on the actions and decisions that are still within in your control.
Simplify with Short-Term Goals
The bigger the negotiation, the more daunting it can be. Coping with multiple issues and parties with different agendas can throw the most balanced negotiator off-kilter.
The prescription? Figure out what needs to be resolved today and what realistically can wait. That doesn’t mean resorting to Robert’s Rules of Order and dealing with just one item at a time; such mechanical procedures thwart your chances of making creative trades across issues. Instead, simplification means specifying short-term goals – such as relationship building one day, joint fact-finding the next – that will help you achieve your ultimate objective. “Sometimes you have to go at a problem the way I got at a complicated crossword puzzle,” former U.S. President Bill Clinton said in the 2006 documentary Wordplay, “You start with what you know the answer to, and then you just build on it. A lot of difficult, complex problems are like that. You have to find some aspect of it you understand and build on it until you unravel the mystery that you’re trying to solve.”
Similarly, balanced negotiators look at bargaining as a puzzle, seeking small victories that will move them forward, bolster their confidence, and expand their influence.
Orient Throughout the Process
In his book Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation (Bantam, 1991), William Ury urges negotiators to be in two different places at the same time: “Imagine you are negotiating on a stage and then imagine yourself climbing onto a balcony and overlooking the stage.” This dual perspective enables you to be deeply engaged in the process of exploration and give-and-take while still recognizing how the scope of the drama is playing out in other parties’ eyes.
Maintaining this duality isn’t easy. If you passionately believe in the merits of your proposal, it may be hard to see how others could find it lacking. Similarly, too much detachment can undercut the power of your message.
Nevertheless, recognizing and bridging different perceptions is the key to reaching agreement. As Ury says, zooming in and out “means distracting yourself from overreacting to provocations. If you find that you are truly in the dark, your first priority should be to better orient yourself. Only by having the poise to see where you are now can you identify where to go next.