Having more information is the single-most important factor in increasing power in negotiation. Most understand this and recognise the simplest way to get it is through research, planning and questioning effectively. What most don't appear to realise is that listening, observing and discipline give more useful information for very little effort.
With the internet we have more information than we can humanly absorb. Therefore, getting to relevant data is critical. Many websites offer the benefit of filtering, which can dramatically reduce the volume of data. Company sites make publicly available financial data easy to obtain; there is great value in understanding the financial position of the company with whom you are negotiating. Search engines provide personal information and credit checks can now be completed at the push of a button. But this is not enough on its own.
More of our clients have resources dedicated to data-gathering through research and planning for commercial negotiation. Planning teams are becoming more sophisticated. Typical exercises ask who are the key players, what variables need consideration, what tactics will be used, what are the alternatives. Every one hour spent on negotiation should be researched and planned for ten hours.
Ask and they are likely to tell what they want you to hear. To elicit information you could give some first. Sharing information builds trust, essential to collaborative deals as it ca n ensure openness and honesty.
Questioning is a difficult skill. Most of us are less effective than we need to be. There are 24 different types of question to elicit the same date, each similar in a subtly different way. Often we ask the question and then start planning the next one before gaining the full answer.
Listening is hearing not just words but the meaning behind them. Padding, such as "to be honest" and "basically", demonstrate discomfort, such as the information is not entirely honest or likely to change.
Observing and reading non-verbal communication that sit beside answers can offer a further level of information. Fidgeting while talking could be caused by stress. Active listening comes from discipline and silence. The old adage of two ears, one mouth, use them in that proportion has never been truer than here.
The skills described require understanding and practice. If you master consciously giving the other party the information you want them to receive while you consciously gather the information you want to gain, you will feel new levels of power and control in commercial transactions.
Graham Botwright is a partner with The Gap Partnership specialising in commercial negotiation