Good Negotiators Know How To Become Bookkeepers

Listing out what's been agreed to is a good way to get closer to reaching a deal…
Listing out what’s been agreed to is a good way to get closer to reaching a deal…

The more complicated a negotiation is, the less likely it is that you’re going to be able to reach a deal with the other side of the table. In many negotiations there are just too many things for both parties to try to keep straight. Add this to all of the different negotiation styles and negotiating techniques being used by both sides and neither side is probably ever going to feel comfortable enough to agree to a deal. However, if you are willing to become a bookkeeper during the negotiations, then you just might be able to find a way to save this negotiation.

What Is The “Bookkeeping Technique”?

Any negotiation process that you are involved in can become complicated very quickly. At any point in time there are agreements that have been reached and a number of issues that still have to be negotiated before any deal can be reached.

All too often, one or more parties who are involved in the negotiations can take a look at what remains to be done and throw up their hands and say something along the lines of “we’re never going to be able to reach a deal here”. This is when it’s time to bring in the bookkeeping technique.

When you are applying the bookkeeping technique to a negotiation, the first thing that you do is to get out a blank sheet of paper or go up to a blank whiteboard. Next you create a status snapshot of the current state of the negotiations.

By doing this you are going to be bringing clarity to the negotiations and you’re going to be providing everyone who is involved with an overview of where the negotiations really stand.

How Do You Use The “Bookkeeping Technique”?

When you are creating your status snapshot, you are going to want to create “three buckets” on your piece of paper or on the whiteboard. In the first bucket you are going to want to document what issues have been agreed to by both sides so far. Make sure that you capture every issue no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they are.

Next you are going to want to document what issues are still open and which have not been discussed yet. You’re going to want to list these issues from easiest to resolve to the hardest to resolve.

Finally, in your third bucket you are going to want to list out the issues that are currently in disagreement. The purpose of doing this is to get both sides of the table to focus on what’s going on right now. All too often the participants can get caught up in the negotiation and may no longer have a clear understanding of what remains to be settled.

The bookkeeping technique has the ability to level set the negotiations and get everyone once again working on the same set of issues that are being negotiated. It can remind everyone how much they have already accomplished and how little remains to be done before a successful deal can be reached.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

All too often negotiators will find themselves involved in a negotiation that is very complex and which has a lot of different issues that need to be resolved. According to the negotiation definition these are the types of negotiations that have the best chance of never being able to result in a deal.

One way to deal with this is for you to support your next principled negotiation by playing the role of the bookkeeper during the negotiations. Take the time to list out the issues that the teams have already agreed to, what issues are still open, and where the disagreements are. By doing this you can change the focus to the present where progress can be made.

No, this technique won’t be enough to resolve every complicated negotiation. However, I think that you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at just how often these simple techniques can help move the negotiations towards a deal.

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

Question For You: At what time during a negotiation do you think that the Bookkeeper Technique would be most effective: beginning, middle, or end?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Face it, deadlocks happen all too often during a negotiation. When you encounter your next deadlock, it’s going to be the ability to find a creative solution that just might allow you to save the day. One such type of solution is to decide to outsource your deadlock problem. Don’t laugh – if this technique does the trick, then your negotiations will be back on track quickly.