Who among us hasn't found ourselves in a negotiation unexpectedly, or off the back of a hurried preparation? A lack of preparation might just be overcome by experience and talent, but didn’t somebody say hope isn’t a strategy? Is there anything more frustrating than trying to negotiate with a counterpart that is disorganised or worse, hasn't really established what they want and need from the negotiation? Your organisation can’t afford to have key suppliers and customers think that haste and hope are your default approach to such critical and complex relationships!
Preparation for negotiation is a bit like training for an elite team sporting event, lots of individual conditioning and skill-building as well as having a great match plan. Everyone needs to be confident in the position (role) they are going to play. Fortunately, we don't all need to dedicate our lives to becoming specialist negotiators. But spending some preparation time on a strategy and a plan will pay big dividends.
Each organisation has its own approach to planning and conduct of negotiations, some will formally separate the ends, ways and means while others may even question the need for a negotiation strategy and a negotiation plan. Put simply, the negotiation strategy identifies what your organisation wants to achieve out of the negotiation. Ideally, it is based on careful analysis of your needs and wants, with a clear eye on forecasting those of the counterpart. The strategy very much focuses on the end-state of the negotiations, where do we want to get to and what are we prepared to agree?
So, if the strategy gives our negotiation a destination, the plan is the roadmap for how to get there. The plan might address the necessary participants, the intended roles of our participants and the style of negotiation we seek to engender. Importantly, the plan should address key issues like how and when we want to signal our interests, and what elements of our negotiation goals might be exposed progressively...
Depending on the scale of your negotiation, the plan and strategy might be combined, although you might like to consider how this could impact flexibility and responsiveness of the negotiation conduct. Above all, be crystal clear on your negotiation goals and limitations, and who in the organisation has the authority to vary these if the strategy becomes untenable. The strategy must provide unambiguous limits on the negotiation, and make it clear upfront what types of outcomes are essential, beneficial or just desirable.
A good negotiation plan places significant emphasis on the early phases of the negotiation, recognising how they argue and signal phases of the negotiation establish rapport between the parties and set up the proposal making. A poorly crafted signal, or an undisciplined element of argument can and do all too often send your counterparts on fruitless and frustrating journeys, taking momentum and goodwill out of the negotiations. Agreeing upfront in your plan who will deliver key signals and discussing when that is likely to be opportune and all healthy planning steps. Conversely, having an overly detailed plan upfront, especially about the latter phases of the negotiation including proposing, packaging and bargaining can be unhelpful when your counterparts inevitably don’t proceed in the direction you anticipated. An experienced lead negotiator will find the balance between upfront planning, the degree to which it needs to be formalised and when to use time-outs in the negotiation to re-evaluate and plan the next steps.
Another way to think about the importance of strategy and planning in negotiations can be to regard the strategy as the contract between the organisation and the negotiation team, relatively strategic in nature and generally not able to be materially varied by the team. The plan by contrast is team property, it needs to be thought out in advance to generate cohesion and momentum but should always be up for re-evaluation throughout the progress of the negotiation.
The Scotwork Advancing Negotiation Skills program provides teams and leaders with a shared language and discipline around negotiations, delivering the framework for teams and organisations to confidently enter negotiations and deal effectively with counterparts. Scotwork can also provide experienced negotiation coaches, to work during preparation and even conduct of the negotiation.