There’s a saying in the military: “Plans go out the window at the first contact with the enemy.” Even General Dwight Eisenhower—who oversaw the most ambitious military invasion in modern history—said, “Plans are worthless.” But he added an important caveat: “Planning is everything.”
You can’t script the process of negotiation, therefore you can’t dictate someone’s agendas, attitudes or actions any more than you’d let them dictate yours.
As a result, one-size-fits-all negotiation strategies may not always be the best option. An approach that succeeds in one context could be disastrous in another. Therefore, one should be equally critical of the two mainstream negotiation approaches: win-win, in which parties creatively search for mutual gain, and hardball, where each party ruthlessly presses its own advantage.
Master negotiators don’t shackle themselves with rigid plans. Instead, they’re strategically agile, quick on their feet from moment to moment. That’s not the same thing as winging it.
PREPARING FOR UNCERTAINTY
Preparation is essential to help you learn as much as you can before getting to the bargaining table. There are many things you won’t know until you engage with the other side, making negotiation a dynamic, interactive process. Whatever questions, offers, or threats you make are also signals that potentially affect the other party’s perceptions and behaviour—and not always in the way that you expect or intend.
Meanwhile, as you’re trying to gain a better sense of the situation, your counterpart is also reading or misreading you.
HITTING THE RIGHT NOTES
The great negotiators are successful because they go into a situation with a complete presence of mind, responding to and working with whatever is presenting itself in the moment rather than trying to bend it to some predetermined outcome.
The biggest barrier to developing that mindfulness is something that is almost never talked about in classes or books about negotiation: our own emotions. Even very successful people carry a great degree of anxiety with them to the negotiating table and that anxiety is an obstacle to effective performance.
Research shows that much of the discomfort that people feel about negotia
tion stems from its inevitable uncertainty—and the realization that success is never wholly in our hands.
That uncertainty and lack of control often breeds insecurity, defensiveness, and even hostility. People worry about whether they are being too trusting or too suspicious. Even after making a good deal, people wonder if they could have done better. Such self-doubt is a costly distraction. It gets in the way of constructive engagement and relationship-building.
STAYING IN THE GAME
Being centred emotionally is essential to negotiation success. It requires being comfortable with seemingly contradictory feelings—for example, being simultaneously calm and alert—and approaching negotiation as an ongoing process of discovery about the situation, your counterpart, and perhaps even yourself.
Whether involving international diplomacy, national policy, or just neighbourhood real estate, all negotiations are chaotic in that they are fluid and not wholly predictable. Successful negotiators embrace that reality, so when conditions change—and they will—their agility allows them to sidestep pitfalls and seize opportunity
By Michael Blanding