You are nervous and agitated about an upcoming negotiation and conscious of the need to achieve a certain result. You are hopeful of a positive outcome but know that the person sitting on the other side of the table never offers anything for nothing. Your margin is suffering because your position in the market place is weakening and competition is increasing. You have been set targets and deadlines that seem unrealistic and you feel disempowered to make a sensible decision. You know that only a strong outcome can lead to your being psychologically or literally downgraded. Does this scenario feel familiar?
All too often on our workshops, clients describe the other party as holding the balance of power. Buyers say: "What kind of proposition would we have if we don't stock their powerful brands?" Account managers say: "They exploit our only route to market through their size and buying power." But the power balance is more even than we think.
Too often we allow our feelings about our own situations to cloud our objectivity. Skilled negotiators remove themselves from their situations and put themselves inside the other party's head by assessing thoughts and feelings.
Negotiation is 90% effective preparation. Under pressure, people often waste time focusing on the wrong type of preparation, presumably to reassure themselves that they have done something. To get into the other party's head , at least know the answers to the following:
What is going on in their business? What has changed in their business planning? Who are the true decision makers? What is their worst-case scenario? If the deal deadlocks, what will happen? What are the relative values of the outcomes?
Only then will you be able to think through your positioning. Your opening should be relative to your estimate of their 'breakpoint' - worst accceptable outcome - rather than your own. Plan your moves relative to their situation and explore options giving added value. Concentrate on high-value trades, ensuring that you take something of equal or greater value in return - giving something for nothing engenders greed. Value everything in their terms.
Remain focused on their position, inside their head. Leave them satisfied while you achieve the best deal. After all, the best deal you can obtain is the best deal they can give you.
Only they know what that really is. So get out of your own head and into theirs.
Graham Botwright is a partner with The Gap Partnership specialising in commercial negotiation consultancy and development solutions.