Negotiation is a very predatory practice involving two or more self-interested parties seeking to maximize gains while minimizing losses. It is the purest essence of market economics. The best negotiators are those who are both willing and able to locate and exploit any weakness in their opponents to ensure they get as much as they can while giving away as little as they can.
To gain leverage over their opponents, top negotiators will spend significant time and effort understanding the thoughts and desires of their opponents. Likewise, for those wishing to become a skillful negotiator, one must also seek to understand one’s opponent so one can effectively manipulate one’s opponent.
1) Know Your Plan
Your first task is to determine what your company is trying to gain, what it is willing to lose, and at what point it will walk away. Because your opponent will likely attempt to predict your goals and what you’re willing and unwilling to sacrifice, understanding your own priorities is critical to ensuring that your goals are met and that your opponent takes as little from you as possible.
2) Know Your Opponent’s Plan
The opponent of any negotiator will possess the same desires and motives as the negotiator: maximize gains and minimize losses. To mitigate any sacrifices you must make, understand your opponent’s plan: what it is willing to lose, what it is unwilling to lose, what its priorities are, and how critical its goals are to its future plans.
3) Know Your Weaknesses
All humans suffer from bias and a tendency for irrationality; all humans also have “hot button” issues that trigger these biases and irrationalities. However, different people have different issues that trigger different biases and irrationalities. Because both you and your opponent are working to maximize net gains, it can be assumed that your opponent will attempt to discover and exploit your “hot button” issues to hinder your ability to negotiate effectively.
4) Know Your Opponent’s Weaknesses
The priority of any negotiator is to establish a solid defense if your opponent makes it difficult for you to meet your goals, establishing an effective defense will at least help you mitigate losses. Once confident that you can effectively mitigate any losses, begin to establish a solid offense. By understanding your opponent’s biases and irrationalities, you gain the ability to direct it into acting in favor of your interests.
5) Know Your Opponent’s Values
People may differ greatly depending on the cultural background of their hometown. An individual from a different country, a different state, or even a different family may hold values vastly different to your own. Failure to understand the difference in values between yourself and your opponent may strongly influence the strength of your position: insulting your opponent too much may require you to sacrifice more to keep it negotiating while making your opponent feel respected may increase its willingness to sacrifice more.
6) Know the Law
Legal rulings in your county, state, or country may significantly affect your negotiating options. Local, state and national laws serve to regulate both what you cannot do and what you can do. Understanding the law may allow you to gain advantages over a less diligent opponent. Understanding recent legal rulings may allow you to return from a weak position at the negotiating table by giving you alternatives you would not have had otherwise. Possessing alternatives strengthens your position by giving you the ability to walk away from the table, effectively communicating to your opponent that it must either cater more to your interests or risk walking away with nothing while you leave with your goals met.
While the purpose of negotiation is to gain as much as you can while giving as little as you can, an effective negotiator does not seek to take everything from its opponent. Your first priority should always be meeting your goals, however “destroying” your opponent — and worse, gloating about it — is likely to affect future relations and in a society with numerous corporate alliances and ubiquitous and constant communication, a reputation for ruthlessness is likely to negatively affect future interactions with other individuals or organizations. Once you have what you want, allow your opponent to get some of what it wants.
This article was contributed by Joe Shervell for www.thegappartnership.com, experts in business negotiation.