How To Run An Effective Negotiation

Understanding how a negotiation works is the starting point
Understanding how a negotiation works is the starting point
Image Credit: Michael Styne

With a little luck you know how to negotiate. You understand that your goal during a negotiation is to find a way to get the other side to accept the proposals that you have made to them. However, it turns out that there is a bigger question here. What can you do as a negotiator in order to boost the chances of successfully reaching a deal with the other side? It turns out that how you set up the actual negotiation itself can play a big role in how it turns out. Understanding how you can design a negotiation to give you the results that you are looking for is key to getting what you want.

The Negotiating Environment

Negotiators want to know what is the best practice for arranging the physical space to facilitate a productive negotiation? Determining who’s needs we need to meet can be confusing because on one hand, we view ourselves as being the customer; on the other hand, they may be the “bigger fish.” If we resolve the question of where to hold the negotiations in favor of our home turf, now we are going to want to arrange the physical space to promote a productive negotiation discussion.

Thinking about this issue is the first step by identifying the issue. Too often, the physical space for a mediation is an afterthought for us, and the results can be disastrous. As an example of a situation like this, consider the case of a team that met to try to resolve a highly divisive issue. When the members entered the room, they were told to pick up their name cards and sit wherever they liked. Predictably, the group that supported one side of the view sat on one side of the long table, and the group that supported the other side sat on the other side. Halfway through the meeting, one of the team members noted that the conversation felt like a battle because the two sides had assembled on opposite sides of the table. It would have been better for the organizer to have set out name cards in advance, deliberately interspersing the two sides to make the discussion feel more like a conversation and less like a pitched battle.

Negotiators need to understand that planning the physical space of a negotiation should not be left to chance. When sides that are in conflict sit together, counterproductive behavior such as note-passing is common, and even innocent notes may be interpreted suspiciously by the other side. Things can become even worse when both sides open their laptops and those on the same side of the table can see what those opposite cannot. If you want to communicate a problem-solving approach, then you need to sit everyone on the same side of the table or intersperse opposing sides around the table. This is generally more desirable than sitting across from one another.

The Negotiating Environment Is All About The Details

To further promote problem-solving during a negotiation, you also need to build in plenty of breaks to allow the two sides to caucus privately, giving them a chance to talk among themselves and refer to their confidential information as needed. Additionally you should make sure that both sides have the ability to see each other. This is important between the principal mediators on both sides. If the chief negotiators have to look past three or four other people to see each other, then this can slow down the process and may end up frustrating both parties.

It turns out that everything matters when you are setting up your negotiation environment. Negotiators need to understand that the ergonomic chairs that populate many conference rooms today can be lowered or raised. All too often where a negotiator from the “visiting team” takes a chair they will discover that it is too low or too high, and then they will spend minutes experimenting with the various levers trying to get the chair to the proper level.

What we need to understand is that this is not a good way to start a mediation. Your negotiation visitors will end up feeling embarrassed for not being able to figure out how to “operate” the chairs. However, it can get worse. They might think you have deliberately engaged in the old “low chair” gambit to try to gain a negotiating advantage. What this means is that before visitors show up you need to avoid such awkwardness by ensuring that chair heights are set to an appropriate level.

What All Of This Means For You

The purpose of any negotiation that we are involved in is to get the other side to agree to a deal with us. As negotiators we know a number of different negotiating tactics and negotiating styles that we can use to make this happen. However, it turns out that there is something else that may determine if the other side is willing to reach an agreement with us: the negotiating environment. What this means is that we have a responsible to make sure that our negotiating environment will help us to get the deal that we want.

When we are setting up our negotiating environment we have to determine whose needs we are going to meet. We need to make sure that we take the environment into consideration. Where people sit during a negotiation is important: we should not place different sides of the negotiation on different sides of the table. Including breaks in the negotiation schedule and making sure that both sides can easily see each other are also good ideas. The chairs that people are sitting in are also important and they should all be at the same height.

When we are preparing for a negotiation it can be very easy to focus on the key issues that will be discussed. All too often we may not spend any time thinking about where the negotiations will take place – the negotiation environment. However, it turns out that the environment in which the negotiations will take place is very important. If we can manage this environment then we’ll have a better chance of being able to reach the deal that we are seeking.

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

Question For You: Do you think that the temperature of the room that you’ll be negotiating in is important to manage?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When we enter into a negotiation, we need to understand what will be required in order to reach a deal with the other side. There are many different things that will go into a deal; however, one of the most important is trust. What this means for us as negotiators is that we need to understand what trust really is and how we can go about developing it during a negotiation. It will only be by doing this that we can boost our chances of being able to reach a deal with the other side.