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The idea of acceptance time is so simple that it is often overlooked. Yet, when understood, it has the power to make each of us more effective.
People need time to accept anything new or different. Both parties walk into a negotiating session with somewhat unrealistic goals. They start with all kinds of misconceptions and assumptions. Being human, they hope against hope that their goals will, for a change, be easily met. The process of negotiating is usually a rude awakening. The low price hoped for by the buyer begins to look impossible. The easy sale that the seller longs for eludes him or her. Wishes are converted into reality through the cold water of bargaining.
Can we expect the buyer or seller to adjust to these new and undesired realities immediately? Of course not. Resistance to change is universal. It takes time to get used to ideas that are foreign or unpleasant. We can even get used to the idea of death given a long enough period to do so. Acceptance time is as important in negotiation as it is in life.
The buyers need time to accept the thought that they will have to pay a higher price than planned. The sellers are not ready to retreat from their price in the first few minutes of negotiation. Both they and their organizations need adequate acceptance time. That is why the perceptive seller tells the buyer of a possible price increase long before it happens. It gives the buyer and his or her people time to reconcile themselves to the idea.
When you ask people to change new ideas for old, you are asking that they discard old friends. Right or wrong, they have grown accustomed andcommitted to them. Put yourself in their position. Isn't it logical that they will be more receptive to your viewpoint, given the time to adjust? The asians say, "time brings things by slow degrees." Leave room in your planning for the concept of acceptance time.
Achievement and aspiration level: is what you get related to what you want?
At one time or another, most of us have told our children, "if you aim higher, you'll come out better." We tend to subscribe to that idea in our daily lives. The crucial business question is, "if you aim higher in negotiation do you come out better?"
Two professors tried an experiment. They built a barricade between bargainers so that neither could see or hear the other. Demands and offers were passed under the table. Instructions to both were identical, with one exception: one was told he or she was expected to achieve a $7.50 settlement; the other a $2.50 settlement. The experiment was designed to favor neither partythat is, both had an equal chance to get $5. What happened in test after test? People who expected $7.50 got around $7.50, while those told to expect $2.50 got close to $2.50.
I tried a similar experiment, but the conditions were different. Where the professors' subjects were students, mine were professionals; where they limited communication, i created face-to-face encounters on a one-to-one or team-to-team basis. Where they induced an artificial level of aspiration, i let each person decide individually. My experiment verified that people with higher expectations got higher settlements. Those expecting less were willing to settle for less.
How people set and revise goals in life provides an insight into how they do so in negotiation. People fix targets for themselves even when they are unaware they are doing so. When we choose a neighborhood to live in, a fraternity, or even a church, we say something about our status goals. Business executives describe their goals by the people they mingle with and the kinds of people they hire as assistants. We are continually setting objectives in life, getting feedback, and revising goals up or down.
An individual's level of aspiration represents the intended performance goal. It is a reflection of how much he or she wants; that is, a standard that they set for themselves. It is not a wish, but a firm intention to perform that involves the individual's self-image. Failure to perform results in loss of self-respect. When people are asked, "what score would you like to get next time?" They are more unrealistic in setting goals than those who are asked, "what score do you expect to get next time?" In one case, self-image is involved; in the other, it is not. In the first case, there is less commitment to the score than in the second.
Aspiration level, risk taking, and success are related. In choosing goals, individuals are like gamblers laying a bet. They balance a need for success with its tangible and intangible rewards against the probability of failure and its possible costs. People cannot make this computation consciously. Instead, they do so unconsciously, based on their past history of success and failure in similar situations.
Aspirations rise and fall with the tide of success. Level of aspiration is the yardstick by which people take bets on their own performance. It is a roulette wheel in which an individual's biggest bankroll is at stake: self-respect. Goals are set in accordance with the risk a person is willing to take. People set targets in negotiation as they do in life. They change them as success or failure is experienced.
A negotiation is a full-circle feedback system. Goals are set by the buyer and seller. Then comes the feedback. Every demand, concession, threat, delay, fact, deadline, authority limit, and good-guy/bad-guy remark has an effect on each party's expectations. The "price" goes up and down in their heads with each word and new development.
In negotiation, people who set a higher target and commit themselves to it will do better than those willing to settle for less. There is a risk. People who aspire to more get more, but they also deadlock more. The trade-off is one that can be evaluated only by good judgment. Despite the risk, up your aspiration level.
Advance payments: watch out
No matter how much a subcontractor cries that he or she needs advance payments, i don't give any unless:
1. There are measurable guarantees that the funds will be used precisely for the purposes indicated.
2. There are firm and measurable performance milestones tied to the payments.
3. There are sufficient and measurable reserves held back at each milestone to assure that the next milestone and the total job will be performed.
Sometimes, despite my attitude against advance payments, i fail to follow my own rules. More often than not, when that happens, i get taken. But then, even at my age, there are at least a few dumb mistakes in me yet.
Those who control the agenda formulate the questions and time the decisions. In business as in diplomacy, the agenda represents an opportunity to gain and hold the initiative. It is the first test of purpose in a negotiation and sets the stage for what follows.
Diplomats fuss about the agenda. Not so businesspeople. They rarely give it much thought and thereby forfeit a good opportunity. I have seen multimillion-dollar negotiations in which the agenda discussions took only fifteen minutes. Neither party attached value to the matter, nor understood its significance.
It is a lot easier for buyers to control the agenda than sellers. Occasionally, a good salesperson can take the reins if the buyer is indifferent. Both should be aware of what an agenda can do to shape the outcome of a negotiation.
A good agenda can clarify or hide motives. It can establish rules that are fair to both or biased in one direction. It can keep talks on track or permit digressions. It can coordinate the discussion of an issue with moves away from the table. It can force a quick decision or permit a patient exploration of facts. The person who controls the agenda controls what will be said and, perhaps more important, what will not be said.
Always try to negotiate an agenda before talks begin. It will help you keep the initiative. The following guidelines are pertinent:
1. Don't accept the other person's agenda without thinking through the consequences.
2. Consider where and how issues can best be introduced.
3. Schedule the discussion of issues to give yourself time to think.
4. Study your opponents' proposed agenda for what it deliberately leaves out.
5. Be careful not to imply that your "must" demands are negotiable. You can show your resolve early by not permitting such items into the discussion.
An agenda is a plan for discussion. It is not a contract. If either party doesn't like the format after talks begin, they must have the courage to change it. Neither can afford to treat the matter lightly.
Agreements, understandings, and procedures: a big difference