Negotiators Want To Know: Are There Any Rules In Negotiations?

by drjim on September 20, 2013

Life has a lot of rules, do negotiations?

Life has a lot of rules, do negotiations?
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Can you lie during a negotiation? That’s actually a really good question that every negotiator needs to find their own answer for. It sure would help if there were some rules that we knew that everyone was going to follow during a negotiation regarding which negotiation styles or negotiating techniques were permitted. This leads us to the really big question about negotiating: are there any rules to follow?

Are There Any Rules When We Are Negotiating?

This question is a pretty simple one to answer: no, there are no rules when you are negotiating. Perhaps I need to be a little bit more clear here: there are no rules that both sides have agreed to follow during the negotiation.

Sometimes before a negotiation starts, both sides will meet to work out what are called “ground rules” that will be used during the negotiations. These are generally high-level agreements that are designed to keep the negotiations on track and perhaps to restrict just exactly will be discussed during the negotiations.

Don’t confuse these ground rules with any sort of overall rules that the negotiations will follow. The ground rules are just that – simple rules to make sure that the negotiations don’t go down a path that won’t benefit either party. Keep in mind you’re still operating in a “no rules” territory.

Is Deception Permitted?

Once again, the answer to this question is very simple: yes. I think that I need to be very, very clear here. Deception is permitted; however, behaving unethically or illegally is not permitted. The line between the two behaviors can be a bit unclear at times.

Most importantly, if you make an agreement as a result of a negotiation, you must always keep your word. Ultimately the goal of any negotiation is to build a level of trust with the other side of the table so that you’ll prepare the way for your next negotiation with them.

You need to keep in mind that a negotiation is NOT the same thing as a completed business contract. Until such time as that contract is signed, you should feel free to act in any way that you believe will get you a better deal.

A good example of this would occur if the other side asked you “Are we the only company that you are talking to about a deal like this?” If they are, you really should not reply “yes” because then you’ll put them in a more powerful position. You should say “No, we’re looking for the best deal and so we’re currently talking with a number of different potential partners.”

What All Of This Means For You

Negotiating and ethics are uncomfortable bed partners. We are always trying to understand where the lines are drawn: what is permissible and what is over the line?

It turns out that there are no rules that are agreed to by both parties that would guide a principled negotiation. There may be some ground rules that both sides have agreed to; however, these should not be considered to be negotiating rules. As a negotiator you need to understand that deception is not off-limits. Instead, it’s actually a very important tool that you have and can use during a negotiation.

The most important point for you to remember is that once the deal is done, you are now committed to following through on your word. How you deal with one contract will frame how everyone else views you. Do a good job of negotiating and be true to your word and you’ll become a great negotiator.

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

Question For You: Can you think of a situation where it would not be ok to be deceptive?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Before you can have any hope of becoming a better negotiator, you need to make sure that you fully understand just exactly what a negotiation is. Forget about all of those negotiation styles and negotiating techniques, just exactly is a negotiation? All too often a lot of us jump into a negotiation thinking that it is one thing when in reality, it’s something completely different. If we spend just a few moments trying to get to the bottom of this question, then I think that you’ll have the tools that you are going to need in order to become a better negotiator.

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