In A Negotiation You Always Have To Be Looking For The Icebergs

It's not the part of the iceberg that you can see that you have to watch out for…
It’s not the part of the iceberg that you can see that you have to watch out for…
Image Credit: NOAA’s National Ocean Service

When a negotiation starts, we often listen to what the other side is telling us using all of their negotiation styles and negotiating techniques and we believe that we know what they want. However, in a lot of cases we are wrong. What’s going on here? It’s actually pretty simple – the other side may not know what they want! What’s a negotiator to do in a situation like this?

Why Is A Negotiation Is Like An Iceberg?

So let’s take just a moment and think about the opening offer that the other side is going to make to you during the start of a negotiation. What they are telling you about at this point in time is very much like an iceberg. The visible part of an iceberg. You can see it, they can see it, but it’s not the whole thing. Below the water, so to speak, there is a lot more going on. Not visible to either side at this point in the negotiation are the concerns, values, interests, intentions, and preferences.

Your goal in any negotiation has to be to leave the other side feeling satisfied (oh, and you want to feel satisfied also!). What you need to understand is that even if you gave into them and agreed to everything that they were asking you for, this still might now leave them feeling satisfied. The reason for this is because they may not fully understand what they want to get out of this negotiation.

What this means for you is that when the other side starts things off by making a demand of you, you don’t want to come back with a counter to it. If you do this, then you’ll be engaging in what we call positional or share bargaining. The problem with this approach is that it’s going to put you into a competitive, win-lose, contest with the other side. You don’t want this to happen.

How To Navigate A Negotiation Iceberg

So if we understand that the other side may not fully know what they really want to get out of a negotiation at the start, what are we to do? One thing that you can do after they’ve made their initial demands of you is to start to ask them questions. How they choose to answer these questions will reveal information to you about what their thinking is. You’ll learn more about their motives, preferences, interests, and intentions.

This is the information that you both want and need in order to conduct a successful negotiation. Once you’ve been able to get this information out of the other side, you’ll be in a much better position to “see” the rest of the iceberg that they’ve brought to this negotiation. With this information you’re going to be able to expand the playing field that this negotiation will be conducted on and you’ll be able to move from a distributive (zero-sum) negotiation to a cooperative (positive-sum) negotiation.

When we’re negotiating we need to understand that that what’s apparent during the negotiation may not count for all that much. However, what’s underneath may count for a lot! As a negotiator you need to be aware that there may be more going on here than initially meets the eye. This means that you have the responsibility of taking the time to dig a bit deeper in order to find out what’s really going on.

What All Of This Means For You

Negotiations are not always what they appear to be. When a principled negotiation starts, the other side will often start out by making demands of you. What you need to realize as a negotiator is that what they are asking for may not be what they really want or need. In fact, they may not fully understand what they really want!

The initial demands that are made by the other side of the table are simply the visible part of the iceberg. What we need to keep in mind is that there is a lot more going on underneath the surface. Our negotiation won’t be successful if the other side is not left feeling satisfied, but that can’t happen if they don’t know what they really want.

You have to avoid positional or share bargaining. Instead, what you’ll want to do is to ask the other side questions about their demands. Gather information about why they are asking for things and you’ll gain insights into what they really want. This allows you to engage in cooperative (positive-sum) negotiating.

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

Question For You: When you discover what the other side really wants, what is the best way to confirm this with them?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If only we had the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to put words in the mouth of the other side of the table during a negotiation! We can’t actually do this, so we spend a great deal of time looking for clever ways to get them to say the things that we want them to say. More often than not, the one thing that we’d really like to hear coming from the other side of the table is the word “yes”. No, we can’t make them say this, but it turns out that we can do things that makes it much easier for them to say it.