Negotiators Need To Know: When Is A Negotiation Truly Over?

by drjim on September 13, 2013

What are the signs that you've reached the end of a negotiation?

What are the signs that you’ve reached the end of a negotiation?
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I believe that we can all recognize when a negotiation starts. It might even be possible to recognize when a negotiation is about half-way through – some issues have been resolved, more remain to be discussed. However, push aside all of the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that are involved in a negotiation and one of the most difficult questions that a negotiator needs to be able to answer is just exactly when is a negotiation truly over?

When Is A Negotiation NOT Over?

I guess before we can talk about when a negotiation is over, we might first want to have a quick talk about when a negotiation is NOT over. There can be a number of different times during a negotiation when it might seem as though things are wrapping up, but you would be wrong.

The first time that you might be fooled into thinking that a negotiation is over is when both sides of the table reach an agreement. This is a good first step, but by no means is the negotiation over yet. The next step is to write a memo of agreement – once again it might start to look like the negotiations are wrapping up. They are not.

Many negotiators make the mistake of believing that when a contract has been written or even when both sides of the table have agreed to it, the negotiation is now done. However, since this is simply an agreement, the negotiation cannot be considered to be done. Finally, when the product or the service that has been covered by the contract has been delivered you would think that now, the negotiation has got to be done. The answer is no, not yet.

The Next Negotiation

The reason that the negotiation is not done is because at each of the negotiation milestones that we’ve discussed, differences between both sides of the table can still pop up. When this happens, you are going to have to head back to the negotiating table to resolve these new issues.

You would think that once the services or products that had been contracted for had been delivered, then finally the negotiation would be complete. However, what you need to realize is that rarely if ever is a negotiation the last interaction between the two parties that were at the table. More often than not this negotiation may have been the start of a much longer relationship.

Understanding that the conclusion of one negotiation is simply the start of the next one is key to realizing the flow of negotiations. They often never come to an end. Instead, it’s better to treat the conclusion of one negotiation as simply the start of the next negotiation. If you use this wrap-up time to lay the groundwork for your next negotiation, then when the time comes you will have made your negotiating life that much easier.

What All Of This Means For You

One of the biggest challenges that negotiators face is knowing when a negotiation is truly over. There can be a number of false signals that could indicate that the process has completed, but you would be mistaken. These include reaching agreement, writing the agreement down, signing the contract, or even doing the agreed to work.

Instead, experienced negotiators know that the negotiating process is never over because even as the current negotiation wraps up, plans for the next round of negotiations need to be laid out. The process of negotiating with the other side of the table is a never ending process.

Although this may have seemed like a trick question – the answer is “never”, don’t think of it that way. Instead, view the work that you put into wrapping up one principled negotiation as a future payment that you are making to prepare for your next negotiation with this partner.

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

Question For You: What needs to be done at the end of one negotiation in order to prepare for the next negotiation?

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