The Power Of Surprise In A Negotiation

by drjim on December 9, 2016

Surprise is yet another tool in a negotiation

Surprise is yet another tool in a negotiation
Image Credit: Rebecca Partington

If you were to ask professional negotiators what they really don’t like to happen during a negotiation, I’m pretty sure that they’d tell you that they don’t like surprises. When we enter into a negotiation, we have plans and we believe that we know how things are going to unfold in terms of negotiation styles and negotiating techniques. When surprises happen this can throw all of our carefully laid plans into disarray. However, is it possible that surprise could be yet another type of negotiating tool?

Surprise As A Negotiating Tactic

We rarely think of a surprise as being any sort of negotiating tactic. Don’t surprises just “happen”? It turns out that no, surprises don’t “just happen” more often than not. Although something may come as a surprise to you, there is a very good chance that it’s not a surprise to the other side of the table. They planned it from the beginning and they intended it to come as a surprise to you.

As a negotiating tactic, surprise can be a powerful tool that can be used to allow one side of the table to maintain pressure on the other side of the table. The thinking is that by dropping a surprise on the other side, you’ll be able to put them off balance and as they try to deal with the new situation, you can pounce and attempt to get the concessions or deal that you want out of the negotiations.

However, as with all negotiating tactics, surprise comes with its own set of disadvantages. When you drop a surprise on the other side of the table that they were not expecting, you will create a sense of both fear and distrust. Your communication paths with the other side are going to be compromised by the arrival of a surprise. Since the other side had not anticipated that a surprise could occur, there is a very real chance that they may find themselves in a situation where they could lose face within their company. If this situation happens, you could quickly see them start to harden their negotiating positions.

Types Of Surprises In A Negotiation

As a negotiator, you need to be able to recognize surprises for what they are – yet another negotiating tactic. Once you can recognize them, you’ll be able to respond to them more effectively when they show up. There are many different types of surprises that you need to be able to deal with.

The most common type of surprise that shows up in a negotiation is an issue surprise. This occurs when a new demand is made, a concession is taken back, there is a change in a someone’s position on an issue or if the level of risk associated with something changes. A different type of surprise are time surprises. These have to do with deadlines, negotiating sessions that suddenly become much shorter than was planned, slowing down or speeding up the pace of a negotiation, and extending negotiations into the night or over a weekend or holiday.

Move surprises are classic ones that include having people walk out of the negotiation, take unplanned recesses, delaying the negotiations, having an emotional outburst, or even interrupting the negotiations. Finally, there are people surprises in which people have unexpected outbursts, they may attack your integrity or your intelligence, people on the other team may be swapped out, senior staff are brought into the negotiations, or people simply don’t show up for the negotiation.

What All Of This Means For You

When we enter into a principled negotiation, we have expectations that we basically know how things are going to proceed. When we get surprised during a negotiation, this can throw us off of our game. We tend to look upon surprises as just a fact of life. However, in negotiations, it turns out that more often than not, surprises are just one more negotiating tactic that is being used by the other side of the table.

Hitting you with a surprise is a clever tactic. It can throw you off of your game and cause you to spend precious time trying to create a new strategy. While you are dealing with surprise, the other side can press their requests to have you either make concessions or to agree to a final deal. Surprises come in many different forms. Four of the most common are issue, time, move, and people surprises.

As with so many other things in negotiations, simply understanding that when you get surprised during a negotiation that you may be dealing with a negotiating tactic is your first step in being successful. Next, you’ll need to determine what type of surprise you are dealing with and then take the appropriate counter measures. Don’t be fooled – nothing happens by chance during a negotiation!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Do you think planning a surprise for the other side is a wise move or will it cause them to harden their negotiating position?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Negotiator Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Negotiator Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When we start a negotiation, hopefully we all know what we’d like to get out of the negotiation. However, as we size up the other side of the table, there is a good chance that we may be making a crucial mistake. We may be making assumptions about them based on their appearance or how they act that are untrue. If we do this, then our chances of getting the deal that we want are at risk. What can we do to make sure that we evaluate the other side correctly?

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Successful negotiators always seem to be able to get the deal that they want

Successful negotiators always seem to be able to get the deal that they want
Image Credit: Search Engine People Blog

If there is one thing that I think that we’d all like to have then it is to be thought of as a ″successful negotiator″. We know that this is a good thing, but I’m not sure if we can tell someone what it means with 100% clarity. Is it based on negotiation styles and negotiating techniques? Clearly successful negotiators are able to get the deals that they want; however, it’s more than that – just exactly how do they go about getting those deals in the first place?

How A Successful Negotiator Represents Themselves

These negotiations that we find ourselves involved in can very quickly become complicated. If we’re not careful, the other side of the table or even ourselves may become lost and confused. That’s why successful negotiators are such good communicators. They know how to take a complicated idea and then express it in simple terms that everyone can understand. They know how to frame the issues being discussed so that everyone’s choices are clear cut.

A negotiation can end one of two very different ways: an agreement can be reached or both parties can choose to walk away. Which way things are going to go is often up in the air for most of the negotiation and either option could still be selected. That’s why successful negotiators come to every negotiation that they are involved in with a sense of optimism and a hopefulness about the future. They believe that a deal can be reached and they are willing to do whatever it’s going to take in order to make it happen.

We all know that who we are negotiating with can have a big impact on how the negotiation turns out. If we fear the other side of the table or we are intimidated by them, then we are going to be much more hesitant to make concessions and the negotiation is going to go a lot slower. That’s why successful negotiators know how to represent themselves as being the embodiment of regular folk – people that we all already know. By doing this they make us feel comfortable negotiating with them.

The Manner Of A Successful Negotiator

How would you feel if you were sitting across the table from the best negotiator in the whole world? I can tell you that I would be feeling just a little bit intimidated. How would you feel if the negotiator that you just sat down with started the negotiation out by telling about all of the big deals that he or she had successfully negotiated? Once again, that’s not going to make you feel very good. Both of these examples clearly show why successful negotiators take a different approach. They arrive at the negotiation with a congenial, humble, and unaffected way. You feel as though you already know them and you are comfortable negotiating with them.

Every negotiation is a stressful encounter. They have goals, you have goals, and somehow you are going to have to see if there is any way that both of your goals can be modified so that you can create a deal that both of you can live with. Successful negotiators are well aware of the stress and tension that is associated with every negotiation. That’s why they use self-deprecating humor in order to make themselves come across as being more human and to make fun of themselves.

Finally, how a negotiation gets started can often have a big impact on what the final result is. A lot of negotiators like to start each negotiation with their guns blazing – they’re going to show the other side who’s boss in this negotiation and they won’t be taking ″no″ for an answer. That’s all well and good, but it’s clearly not going to be putting anyone in the mood to reach a deal with you quickly. Instead, what the successful negotiators do is to start all of their negotiations in a cooperative fashion. The goal is to try to convey to the other side empathy with them and their situation while at the same time showing some calculated incompetence so that the other side starts to feel as though they have the upper hand.

What All Of This Means For You

In this game that we call negotiating, we want to do everything that we can in order to make sure that we are spending our time wisely. If this was a perfect world, we’d all be known as being successful negotiators who were always able to successfully close the deal. However, before we can become that, we first need to understand just exactly what it really means to be a successful negotiator.

It turns out that successful negotiators are great communicators. They have the ability to take complex ideas and express them in simple terms that frame the issues so that it’s always clear what choices people are dealing with. Successful negotiators go into a principled negotiation believing that they are going to be successful – they’ll be able to reach a deal with the other side. Instead of trying to intimidate the other negotiators, a successful negotiator tries to be seen as a regular guy or gal. It’s the congenial and humble manner of the successful negotiator that makes them approachable and their use of self-depreciating humor helps to humanize them.

We all want to become successful negotiators. Clearly there are a lot of different characteristics that define this type of negotiator. Although I think that we now have a fairly good understanding of what a successful negotiator looks like, how we can acquire these characteristics may be a bit tougher to do. The good news is that we don’t have to pick them up all at once, instead we can work on gaining them one by one. If we keep at this long enough, there is a chance that one day we’ll be viewed as being a successful negotiator.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that it is useful to remain optimistic even when a negotiation is falling apart?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Negotiator Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Negotiator Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you were to ask professional negotiators what they really don’t like to happen during a negotiation, I’m pretty sure that they’d tell you that they don’t like surprises. When we enter into a negotiation, we have plans and we believe that we know how things are going to unfold in terms of negotiation styles and negotiating techniques. When surprises happen this can throw all of our carefully laid plans into disarray. However, is it possible that surprise could be yet another type of negotiating tool?

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