How Do You Deal With The Rest Of The Iceberg During A Negotiation?

by drjim on January 6, 2009

When Negotiating, It's Important To Deal With Unstated Issues In Order To Be Successful

When Negotiating, It's Important To Deal With Unstated Issues In Order To Be Successful

As the captain of the Titanic, Edward John Smith, did a fairly good job of looking out for the parts of icebergs that were above water. What got him in the end is when the Titanic hit a part of an iceberg that he couldn’t see because it was below water. In negotiating, all too often we can fool ourselves into thinking that we know all of the issues that are being negotiated. How wrong we are…

When we negotiate with the other side of the table, the issues that are really being negotiated are often a lot more subtle than those issues that were listed on the agenda at the start of the negotiations. In fact, the issues that originally appeared to be big issues, more often than not turn out to not be all that big of a deal after all.

The things that we often spend the most time talking about, services, goods being sold, and price are of course important. However, the clever negotiator realizes that these are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

As a negotiator you need to realize that there will be a large collection of issues that need to be addressed but which will never get written into the final contract. What are these issues you ask? Simple – they are personal issues that the other side holds dear. Neither side can make these personal demands out loud during the negotiation; however, if you don’t address and resolve them, then you won’t be reaching an agreement.

If these personal negotiating issues are so important, then what are they so that we can start to look for them? They take many different forms during each negotiation and you are going to have to do some digging to find the ones that relate to your current talks, but here are some examples for you to keep your eyes open for:

  • Personal Schedules: “I need to get this negotiation completed by tomorrow because my wife wants to go visit her mother this week.” Both sides of the table have schedules that they need to meet and this can influence the negotiations.
  • Internal Organizational Issues: “My boss has been fired and I now work for someone who has a different agenda.” The world is a dynamic place and even as a negotiation goes on, things change. These changes can impact the direction that the negotiation is heading in.
  • Physical Health: “I’ve got a pounding headache.” We need to be constantly reminding ourselves that negotiating has a physical side to it. How either side is currently feeling can have a significant impact on how the negotiations progress.
  • Social Status: “I need this negotiation to be successful so that I can show my boss that I’m valuable to the company.” A negotiation does not occur in a bubble – it has visibility and has impacts. Both sides of the table want to be seen in a favorable light when the negotiations are over.
  • Workload: “I am already swamped and I need to be careful to not take on any more work.” This is the curse of the modern workplace – too much to do and never enough time to do it. You need to watch the other side to determine if they are dragging their feet because they fear an increase in their workload.

These types of personal issues are a critical part of every negotiation. If you can remain sensitive to these types of issues and are prepared to help the other side find a way to deal with them, then you will be that much closer to successfully concluding the negotiation.

Have you ever been involved in a negotiation in which a personal issue became a big deal? When did you first discover that there were non-agenda issues on the table? Did you have your own personal issues that needed to be addressed? How did this all turn out? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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