I was recently running a number of breakfast masterclasses around Australia called “The Negotiating Games”. At the Adelaide session, as I was greeting arriving guests, I noticed coming up the hall a woman with a guide dog. Immediately my mind started racing. I was thinking; “how are we going to effectively communicate this session to someone who may be blind or visually impaired?”. We had a number of written exercises planned, and for a major part of the session we were using Powerpoint. Did I need to get the exercises translated to braille? How would I get that done? Did I have enough time to do it?
I greeted the woman and her guide dog, Oscar, and escorted them to their table. I decided to sit next to her so that I could (hopefully) be of assistance. We got chatting and when I thought I may have built enough rapport to ask her a direct question, I asked; “How long have you been visually impaired?. I admit it’s a bit direct and I would loved to know a more subtle way to do it...Anyway, with good humour and grace she replied that she was a guide dog trainer and that this was the third dog she had trained. I felt a little embarrassed, but also glad that I had tested my assumption.
We regularly make assumptions when we prepare for negotiations that turn out to be wrong. If we push on without testing our assumptions, we risk leaving the other party confused or feeling misunderstood. We often make quite pessimistic assumptions as well. “Psychology Today” recently published an article stating that we have between 25,000-50,000 thoughts every day and about 70% of them are negative. This means that we are likely to be making negative assumptions about many issues in negotiations when in fact most of those assumed situations never materialise.
Test your assumptions to make sure you've got them right and be prepared to change them if it turns out that you got them wrong. Don't fall into the trap of worrying about looking silly - the alternative is much worse. By understanding the other person’s thinking on issues about which you've made assumptions in planning, you will be able to address them directly. You may also be able to propose better solutions which meet their objectives at a cost that may be cheaper to you than you may have first assumed.