Let’s all face it: pressure is a part of the negotiating process. We wouldn’t know that we were in the middle of a negotiation if we didn’t feel some pressure on us. The problem with this pressure is that it can cause us to make poor decisions. Negotiators can feel pressured to use their negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to wrap up a deal as quickly as possible. Speed is often the enemy of a sound, lasting deal, but several safeguards can protect you the next time you negotiate in a high pressure situation.
Take Time To Think Multiple Steps Ahead
One of the biggest challenges that negotiators face is when we become so focused on signing a deal that we overlook the long-term challenges of implementation. This pitfall is all the more dangerous in crisis negotiations, where parties often feel desperate to reach a deal at any cost, and quickly. This type of short-term thinking often limits us from considering the various eventualities that might unfold down the line.
We need to be aware of the importance of thinking multiple steps ahead in a negotiation. Diagramming potential outcomes with a decision tree is one way to bring long-range outcomes into focus. Negotiators can encourage farsighted thinking in others by (1) having negotiators articulate how their proposals advance the organization’s long-term interests and (2) linking financial bonuses to progress during the early years of deal implementation (rather than offering rewards for closing). If we add “if, then” contingencies to a deal, then both parties can agree to disagree by building incentives and penalties into the contract based on their differing predictions.
Find A Way To Slow Things Down
I think that we can all agree that in the midst of a crisis, we may feel that we have a duty to work at lightning speed in an effort to contain the situation. Yet even as we approach the problem with intensity and a sense of urgency, there is value in working methodically. A good example of why this is a good thing to do is shown in hostage standoffs.
We need to consider that the perpetrators in these situations tend to be people who have “snapped” because of a personal crisis and taken hostages on impulse. They are likely to be in a volatile emotional state when the crisis begins, but their rage tends to subside as time goes by. Consequently in a situation like this, a negotiator needs to view time as their most valuable tool – and they try to stall for as long as they can. Freed from deadlines, the authorities try to gradually earn the hostage taker’s trust and encourage him or her to surrender.
Make Sure To Always Monitor The Creation Of The Deal
We’ve been told that we need to own the entire negotiating process; however, after we’ve engaged in a complex negotiation process, negotiators are often happy to pass off the technicalities of deal drafting to their attorneys. This can be a big mistake. This handoff is prone to errors. Vague, contradictory, and missing deal terms are not uncommon, and they can lead to serious problems during the implementation stage.
Fortunately, there are at least three ways to avoid mistakes when you negotiate. First, be sure to communicate the motivations behind your deal to your legal team. This step keeps your lawyers from having to guess your intentions and thus could save you time and money in the long run. Second, resist the common tendency to merely glance over deal documents and file them away. Instead, read them through carefully to determine whether they accurately reflect the negotiated terms as you understand them. Third, set up a time for your lawyers to read the deal back to you in plain English, free of legal jargon. Ask questions about any potential ambiguities, and “stress test” any hypothetical scenarios that could arise.
What All Of This Means For You
Pressure is a part of the job of being a negotiator. However, as negotiators we need to realize that when we are under a great deal of pressure, we may end up making poor decisions in our next principled negotiation. If we are aware that we might do this, then we need to implement safeguards in order to prevent ourselves from making mistakes.
We can prevent ourselves from making pressure related mistakes by taking the time to think multiple steps ahead. We can also encourage others to do the same thing. One of the reasons that poor decisions get made during a negotiation is because things are moving so fast. We can learn a lesson from hostage negotiators and take steps to slow things down. Finally, the deal that gets signed is what we have worked for and we have a responsibility to make sure that the deal reflects what we have negotiated. This means that negotiators can’t hand off the creation of the deal to someone else.
No, we’ll never be able to get the pressure associated with negotiating to go away. However, if we can realize that pressure is part of the job then perhaps we can implement plans to deal with it. If we can make this happen, then we’ll have a better chance of avoiding making poor decisions and we’ll be able to create deals that everyone can live with.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™
Question For You: If you think that you may be making poor decisions during a negotiation, what can you do to change things?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
In the world of negotiations, one of the most important things that we can do is to be clear. We want the other side to understand what we are asking them for. We also want to make sure where we stand on the issues. However, there will be times that despite the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that we are using, we run into issues in a negotiation that we might not want to advertise to either the other side or to the world. In cases like this, back-channel negotiations can provide temporary protection from deal spoilers and too much public scrutiny.