I’m definitely going to lose some readers over this one. But screw it, here we go.
I’ve had very robust “discussions” with many business professionals, former colleagues, and “expert” consultants about this topic.
But the short answer is, “Yes” – I believe you can apply process to negotiation.
Alright, now that we’ve gotten rid of the people who think in absolutes, let’s begin our discussion.
The truth is that you’ve been conditioned (by modern media and movies) to believe that negotiation is a gunslingers paradise where you walk in, shoot, and ask questions later. Experienced and successful negotiators will tell you that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Negotiation can be (when properly executed) a strategic, disciplined, process driven way to increase value for your organization.
Now some of you are thinking, “Wait, do you mean the actual act of negotiating, like the words you use and when you use them are process based, or the strategy?” This is the major distinction that most experienced negotiators feel needs to be made. And this is where I’ll lose more readers. I believe both can be process based.
Okay, now that we’ve lost those folks, let me continue.
There’s a difference between a repeatable process (something that you do the same way every time you do it) and a process. Google’s fancy dictionary defines a process as a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.
Semantics you say? Not so. Stay with me.
The way you develop your negotiation strategy should be developed via a repeatable process because there are things that you absolutely need to do every single time you go into a negotiation. For example, you need to do market and company research, you need to determine what it is that you need/want (for your side and theirs), you need to determine what it is you’re willing to concede (for your side and their side), you need to determine the questions you need to ask to extract information from the other party, etc. There are things that you need to do every time you go into a negotiation. Having a repeatable process for developing a negotiation strategy creates consistency and discipline in how you approach your negotiation.
Now, can you have a repeatable process for the actual negotiation?
You can and should develop a process (which, remember is defined as a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end) in your strategy which will cover what questions you’ll ask, when you’ll ask those questions, how you’ll ask those questions, what you can concede, etc. But that process cannot be repeatable. It cannot be repeatable because your goals for most negotiations differ and therefore the process cannot be the same. Furthermore, no two negotiations are the same. Negotiations are active and dynamic. To apply a repeatable process would be to close off too many opportunities. And the non-repeatable process (or the steps you’ve developed) you apply to the negotiation has to remain flexible and elastic as the negotiation develops and changes, because it will change as change is a constant in negotiation. Think of the act of negotiation like a chess game. You go in with a series of moves you’d like to make, but those moves are constantly in flux and have to evolve and change as the other player moves. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t go in without a series of moves you would like to make.
So let me say this again. Negotiation strategy development should be developed via a repeatable process and the process (non-repeatable) for the actual negotiation should be developed from the strategy.