So much can be said for preparation in negotiation, but even if you prepare, study, and have your questions ready, you can still hit a brick wall if you don’t negotiate the process, understand and set expectations, and agree to next steps.
It’s quite dangerous to walk into a complex negotiation and begin shooting (even if you’ve prepared) without first discussing and agreeing to process on the things that will be negotiated, the sequence, and the rules of engagement.
When you go into a negotiation, come prepared to negotiate the process of the negotiation. Okay, stay with me. If complex negotiations aren’t something you do often, this may sound like a really foreign concept.
You’re probably thinking, “Wait, so we negotiate how we negotiate?!?”
You may be coming in with certain ideas about how things should be discussed, the sequence, the speed, the completion date, the cadence, the revision process, the redlining process, the approval process, etc. But know that the other person you’re negotiating with likely has different ideas about all of those items. Be prepared to negotiate how to negotiate the deal.
It sounds strange, but trust me when I tell you that it will make the negotiation A LOT easier. Putting in the work up front to ensure that both parties are on the same page about how to proceed will save you a lot of headaches, especially when the leverage situations are fairly even.
Now, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT I AM NOT SAYING THAT YOU SHOULD AGREE TO THEIR PROCESS.
Process and rules of engagement in negotiation, like position in poker, can be critical. Many people like to go through the negotiation from the beginning of the agreement and move through “logically” in the sequence of clauses. I would argue that this may not be logical at all. For example, it may be VERY beneficial for you to structure the position of your difficult clauses of the agreement after you’ve gained momentum with clauses that are easy to agree to, but not too far along that they may derail the entire agreement.
The only way to know what sequencing of clauses will work best for you is to know what you need and want and equally what you’re willing to give up (a list of concession items). But knowing these things isn’t good enough. You need to know what’s most important to have (so prioritize your needs and wants) and what’s hardest to give away (so prioritize your concession items)
Then (and this is key) put yourself in the shoes of the other party and do exactly the same exercise, but from their perspective. You do this to determine where there MAY be agreement and possible agreement (BUT YOU MUST VALIDATE WHETHER YOUR ASSUMPTIONS ARE CORRECT THROUGH TARGETED OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS).
Once you’ve completed this exercise, you can determine what may be the correct sequencing of the negotiation. Now, it’s HIGHLY likely that the other party (unless they’re good at negotiation) hasn’t done this. So if you come in with a prepared sequencing to propose, it’s actually pretty likely that they will just agree to it, but don’t get caught off guard if they want to make some changes.
ADVICE: DON’T JUST CONCEDE ON PROCESS CHANGE REQUESTS. DISCUSS IT WITH THE OTHER PARTY SO YOU CAN DETERMINE WHY THEY WANT TO CHANGE IT. YOU MAY FIND OUT WHY SOMETHING IS IMPORTANT TO THEM AND THAT MAY HELP YOU WITH YOUR SEQUENCING AND VALIDATE/NEGATE SOME OF YOUR PREPARATION.
The key with complex negotiations is to ensure that you have agreement with the other party, on process, before the negotiation begins. If you don’t, you’re opening yourself up to a world of hurt and a potentially significantly more difficult negotiation.