Why Your Negotiations Fail: The Three Critical Questions to Ask and Why You Need This System

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

If you’ve been keeping up with my blogs, you know that discovery is a critical component of successful negotiations. Having empathy, making a connection, showing respect and encouraging collaboration facilitate that process.

But you have to have an effective system in place to see it to fruition. An effective negotiation system raises and answers the following questions:

1. What problem are we trying to solve? It seems like an obvious question, but I see it all the time. You have one perspective on the problem, and your counterpart has another. You need to probe a bit to find out what head-space he or she is in. Then you need to

really listen to his or her reply(ies). You’ll not only want to uncover their desired outcome but their deal breakers as well.

Conversely, you’ll want to be clear about your own outlook on the problem, articulating your own intended objectives and non-negotiable items. Once you’ve heard each other and fully understand how each of you views the problem and/or agenda, then you can start moving towards a successful negotiation.

2. What decision or action do I want my counterpart to make or take? Although it’s critical to understand your counterpart’s position and goals, naturally the primary objective for you will be getting what you want out of the negotiation.

However, in order to achieve it, you first have to know what headspace you’re working in. What is the synergy between my counterpart and me? Is there a level of respect and cooperation between us? Are both my counterpart and me willing to reveal our desired outcomes? Do some of their objectives work with my own? Are my deal breakers reasonable? Can I accept my counterpart’s non-negotiables? Once you’ve gleaned the right information from them, you can then communicate and work with your counterpart to move towards a decision that results in a successful negotiation, increasing your odds that you’ll attain your desired outcome.

3. What specific steps do I have to take them through to get them to the point of discovery?

Ancient Chinese philosopher, general and military strategist Sun Tzu said, “Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate.”

Although you don’t want to sit at the negotiation table in complete silence, Tzu’s advice can be re-interpreted and leveraged to your advantage. Be subtle by getting to know your counterpart. Listen more than you speak. It doesn’t mean stonewalling to get the upper hand. Rather, by listening to your counterpart’s issues, motivators and concerns, as well as where he or she draws the line when making concessions, you’ll have a clearer picture and path to reach a successful negotiation. What’s more, your counterpart will feel heard and respected, making them more conducive to reaching an amicable, fair conclusion.

If you read our previous blog, you’ll recall how important it is to know when and how to use the what and why in negotiations. Not only will they engender a feeling of ease and safety within your counterpart, but asking them will enable your opponent to be more forthcoming in their responses, putting both of you on the path to discovery. In fact, discovery is where you connect, so that the other phases of negotiation can occur.

It’s important for you to have a crystalline vision, and even more important that you ensure your counterpart does as well. It will enable you to navigate any obstacles or “deal constraints” along the way.

Most people don’t decide or take action because they can’t envision how things will work. They want and need assurance that they’ll reach a safe conclusion that will benefit them. A good negotiator can paint such a picture for their counterpart, facilitating their willingness to work through any obstacles to achieve their desired outcome.

A good example of where this idea works well is when you encounter an adversary. Listening to their desired outcome and deal breakers provides valuable information to neutralize the situation.

Often in these situations I’ll say to the adversary, “So what I’m hearing you say is that you want X and Y but won’t move forward if Z is still on the table. Is that right?” You can also add something like, “What are you apprehensive about, and how can we address those issues, so we can move forward?”

Doing so will let your counterpart know that you respect them enough to genuinely listen to and consider their concerns. They’ll feel heard, putting them at ease, alleviating any pressure to close the deal and allowing them to feel safe enough to connect with you in a more collaborative spirit. Moreover, your ability to display empathy in a calm, controlled manner will ensure that you don’t look desperate to close the deal. Then the discourse can continue, eventually reaching a successful conclusion.

Another scenario might involve a counterpart who brings emotional baggage to the table. As a result, he or she might have walls up that will impede negotiations. How do you remove them, so you can move the process forward? A good and adaptive system deftly addresses such issues.

Plan. Brief. Execute. Debrief. Rinse and Repeat.

As I’ve mentioned, negotiation doesn’t end when a deal’s been reached. It’s an ongoing process that must be revisited and tweaked if necessary.

Just like any relationship, negotiations take consistent, ongoing work. The first part of the system – discovery – needs to be nurtured. A system known as the Johari Window facilitates the discovery process, helping you and your counterpart identify what each of you needs to reach an agreement. What are my blind spots in the discussion? What is my counterpart withholding from me that could potentially influence the negotiation outcome?

Both sides then can uncover the insights necessary in the decision-making process. Once consensus has been reached, a plan of action can be drafted and then implemented. Again, it’s important to use discovery insights and the system to ensure that the negotiations stick and that potential pitfalls or stumbling blocks can be addressed quickly and effectively.

After planning and executing a successful negotiation, it’s important to debrief. What worked? Where did negotiations fall flat? What potential issues could arise post-negotiations? How will we address them?

People believe that once an agreement is reached, it’s the end of the negotiation. It’s actually just the beginning. Frequently, many walk away from the negotiation table unhappy with the deal to which they’ve just agreed. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons people engage me. They want to renegotiate such deals.

Your Turn…

Do you have a system in place that ensures your negotiations have staying power? What lessons did you learn from it?

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