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Disciplines > Negotiation > The eight-stage negotiation process > Prepare

Know what you want | Know how you'll get there | Guess the same for them | Set up the meeting | See also

The process stages: Prepare - Open - Argue - Explore - Signal - Package - Close - Sustain


The overall action in preparation is to be ready for every stage of the actual negotiation. In preparation, you may walk through many scenarios and prepare for many eventualities.

How much time should you spend in preparation? As much as is appropriate. If you are buying a fridge, you may read a few reviews. If you are buying a house or a business, then much more serious preparation is needed. The sections below are rather long, especially if you follow all the links. This reflects how useful it can be to think through the whole negotiation process before you start.

Know what you want

Understand needs

The first step in preparation is to know what you really want. This may seem obvious, but many negotiators do not understand their deeper needs, let alone their goals for this negotiation.

It is often very helpful to differentiate between positions and interests, as this can give you significantly more flexibility.

Know your priorities

Distinguish between your needs, wants and likes. Know what you really need and know what you are ready to give away. Know what is more important and what is less important. Know what something is worth generally and also worth to you.

Two common areas of importance are time and money. How important are these to you? Are you desperate to conclude the negotiation today or could you let negotiations drag on for a while. Is money a critical factor, or could you flex on this to find a good deal? Generally speaking, the more flexibility you have, the greater the chance you have of reaching a satisfying conclusion.

You also need to consider whether the relationship with other person is important and hence whether a competitive or collaborative approach should be used (or some balanced approach somewhere in between).

Identify your boundaries

What will be your opening offer? If it is too high, you might insult the other person or frighten then off. If it is too low, you may lose out. To do this, you may need to consider the agreement zones that might occur.

Your opening offer will be based on a combination of the range of 'reasonable value' of the things that you want, the situation of the other person and the dynamics that you want to cause within the negotiation itself.

In practice, if the other person makes an opening offer first, which can be a useful action, you may revise your opening offer. Nevertheless, it is still worth deciding where you will start.

Know how you'll get there

When you know what you want from the negotiation, the next step is to plan for how the negotiation might operate in practice. Of course you cannot predict exactly how things will go, but this preparation will significantly increase your chance of succeeding.

Count your resources

Look at everything you have at your disposal that you can bring to bear on this negotiation. What do you have that the other person might value? When buying something, what extra money could you bring to the table? Do you have people you can call on for support? Can you use time in any way?

Finding variables is a key activity that can significantly increase your options. Look to the variables in the resources that you have. What could you increase or decrease? What could be expanded? What could be exchanged?

Develop your concession strategy

When you know where to start, you can now develop the concession strategy, whereby you will make exchanges in order to gain final agreement. This will include the use of variables where you can made trades in many different areas.

Develop your walk-away position

Having a walk-away alternative can be surprisingly useful and you should spend a proportionate amount of time in developing your walk-away. Thus, if you are buying a house, you should spend a lot of time and effort, whilst if you are persuading your son to go to bed, then a few moments thought can be a wise investment.

Guess the same for them

After you have a good idea about your needs and priorities, repeat the exercise with regard to the other person. If you can even half-guess what they want and what they are prepared to give away, then you are well on the way to a successful negotiation.

Understand the person

Start by taking time to understand the person with whom you will be negotiating. What are their beliefs and values? What is their personality and preferences? What are their goals, both overall and in the negotiation?

Assess their likely approach

Having understood your own approach, you should also consider how the other person will approach the negotiation. This may be done after you have built your own strategy, although it can be useful to do this in parallel. Thus, understand your needs and then consider their needs, and so on.

At the very least, do a final review of both your and their likely strategies. A good way of doing this is to write them down on paper and place them side-by-side.

Set up the meeting

Finally, set up the negotiation meeting itself, if this is appropriate. If you can choose the time and the place, you can add further control over the tone of the meeting.

Select the time and place

Choose a right time for the negotiation can be very useful. You may not want to negotiate when people are not ready to give you the attention you need (although when they are distracted by other things can sometimes be useful for getting compliance to a 'small' request).

Setting up location in which to negotiate, considering everything from geography to seating is also an important activity. Our environment shapes how we feel and hence how we think.

Invite the other person

Finally, invite the other person to join you. In a surprise negotiation, you might invite them to a 'meeting' in which you spring the negotiation on them, hoping to gain advantage from their confusion.

In many situations, however, and particularly where the relationship is important, then you may prefer to let them know that this meeting is intended to reach an equitable agreement.

When the other person is hard to get time with, then you may need to book their time well ahead, which itself can be something of a difficult negotiation.

Prepare yourself

Being personally prepared includes knowledge of the situation and others as described above. It also includes mental and emotional preparation. If it is a big negotiation, then you may want to catch up on any lost sleep or maybe take a day or two to wind down.

Preparation also includes your appearance. As necessary get your hair styled, buy new clothes and ensure you are clean and well-groomed on the day. A smart appearance signals a smart mind, which can make all the difference.

See also

Researching the other side, Finding variables, Developing the concession strategy, Developing your walk-away, Creating a Constructive Negotiation Climate


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