Read an Excerpt
Planning the First Session
In This Chapter
- Setting the stage for productive negotiation
- Deciding who should attend
- Making an agenda
- Getting yourself psyched up
- Making a great first impression
Whatever the subject of your negotiation, you face some common issues in preparing for that first session. Even if you are prepared for the issue at hand, you still need to decide where and when to set the meeting, what to wear, and what to do if you're having a bad hair day. Stage fright sometimes sets in no matter how well prepared you are. This chapter helps you prepare for that first meeting, so that you can walk through the door with confidence.
Controlling Your Environment
People often spend very little time considering the best environment for negotiating, and they rely on rules that make arranging a time and place difficult. For example, when both sides consider it gospel to negotiate in their own office, getting things started is impossible.
If your position is low on the food chain and you feel you have no control over the details of the negotiating environment, giving this issue some consideration is even more important. For example, the location in which you negotiate for a raise may already be set, but read on. The material covered in this chapter helps make even your boss's office a more receptive negotiating environment.
Negotiating on your home turf
Your own office often provides a powerful advantage because it's your home turf. You have all the data handy. You have supplemental staff, should you need their expertise. It is, after all, your operational base. Your comfort level is going to be at its highest in that environment.
The home turf is so important to the Grundig Pump Company of Fresno that they built a series of guest rooms right at their factory and hired a staff to look after visitors. You can see the plant, negotiate the deal, and never worry about accommodations, meals, or anything else while you are in town. Grundig set up an ideal negotiating environment. The visitor is freed from the shackles of travel arrangements and home office interruptions. This setup represents the epitome of the oft-stated rule "always negotiate on your home turf."
But be aware that the rule of negotiating on your home turf is not set in stone. The more time you spend on the other skills covered in this book, the less difference it makes whether you are in your office or someone else's. Sometimes, meeting in the other party's office is actually better for you. If your opponent in a negotiation always claims to be missing some document back at the office, meeting there could avoid that particular evasion. Sometimes bulky, hard-to-transport documents are critical to a negotiation. In that event, the best site for negotiation is wherever those documents happen to be.
The most important consideration is to be in a place, physically and mentally, where you can listen. Be an unrelenting control freak on this issue -- both for your sake and for the sake of the person with whom you are negotiating. If you cannot concentrate on what the other person is saying, you cannot negotiate. It's a physical impossibility.
The site of a meeting is a critical issue if you are involved in high-visibility negotiations between nations. In that context, the choice of location can often have widespread political implications with the voters back home. Appearances take on a political meaning of their own that have nothing to do with the negotiating environment. The opposing leaders must maintain an image of power at home, so the location of a negotiation can involve Byzantine discussions.
Seating with purpose
Seating arrangements are the subject of many jokes, and sometimes the importance of seating can be overemphasized -- but not often. Definitely do not leave seating to chance, in spite of the number of people who seem willing to do so.
Here are some seating tips:
- Sit next to the person with whom you need to consult quickly and privately.
- Sit opposite the person with whom you have the most conflict. For example, if you are the leader of your negotiating team, sit opposite the leader of the other negotiating team. If you want to soften the confrontational effect, you can be off-center by a chair or two. Sometimes the shape of the table or room gives you the opportunity to be on adjacent sides with your opponent, rather than dead opposite.
- Consider who should be closest to the door and who should be closest to the phone. If you expect to use the phone or to have people huddling outside the negotiating room, these positions can be positions of power. The person nearest the phone generally controls its use. The person nearest the door can control physical access to the room.
- Windows and the angle of the sun are important considerations, especially if the situation generates heat or glare.
In your boss's office, avoid the seat where you normally sit to take instruction. If your boss has a conversation area, try to move there for the discussion about your raise. Sofas are the great equalizers. If your boss is firmly planted behind the desk, do two things:
- Stay standing for the beginning of your presentation so that you are meeting at eye level.
- When sitting, move your chair to the side of the desk -- or at least out of its regular position. You want to make the statement that this is a different conversation than the normal routine of your boss assigning you a task.
Making it easy to listen
When deciding where to negotiate, be sure that both sides can listen to everything that's said. If your negotiating environment includes constant interruptions or overwhelming noise, listening may not be possible, no matter how hard you try to do so.
Interestingly, every book about negotiating a better sex life (and such books are legion, they just don't use the word "negotiate") emphasizes this point. Making the atmosphere conducive to negotiating for sexual activity is always the subject of clear and extensive discourse in such a book. The authors of such books uniformly recommend a quiet atmosphere without distractions or interruptions. See Dr. Ruth Westheimer's Sex For Dummies.
My worst experience with a lousy negotiating environment was during the sale of the largest chicken ranch in California. My client, the potential buyer, invited me out to the ranch for the final negotiation. From the directions, I knew the place would be about as pastoral as it gets in Southern California. The ranch was built away from freeways, flyways, and functioning industrialism to encourage the chickens to maximize production.
The location exceeded my expectation for rural solitude. There was even a pleasant office, large enough to hold the entire group. Our host, however, thought that a nonstop walking session was the best venue for settling the deal. On the contrary, with the dust, the disorganized clumps of people traipsing around the property, and tens of thousands of chickens complaining nonstop about their cramped quarters, all he accomplished was to thoroughly confuse and wear out a previously receptive group of people.
Unfortunately, time to close the deal had almost run out, so another day of negotiating was difficult to organize. I tried to salvage the situation by suggesting that I host dinner. I asked for a quiet place, and I told everyone not to worry about the cost. I wanted this to be an enjoyable treat.
"Be sure to ask for a table where we can talk," I hollered after our host as he entered his office to call what he considered to be the perfect place.
At dinner, we could talk all right -- to everybody from about ten miles around. This was the neighborhood watering hole. We were never alone. Everyone knew our host -- a real disaster. The deal never closed. We never bought the ranch. To this day, I wonder whether the foxy owner really wanted to sell to my clients. Personally, I don't think he did -- too many three-piece suits for his taste.
Many times, people choose a lunch meeting to discuss important matters. In our culture, meals are inherently social. That makes lunch meetings good for developing relationships, bringing people together, and getting to know one another. However, meals are generally not a good time to negotiate anything of any importance. First, many a trendy restaurant is synonymous with noise. Second, restaurants are rife with uncontrollable inquiries concerning your desires, the quality of service, and the ultimate aggravation concerning water replenishment, of all things.
Planning the environment far in advance
If your company is building a new space, get involved in planning the room where most of the negotiating occurs. Fight hard to make it the right size, near the restrooms, and near some break areas. Everyone has a tendency -- during these days when money is hemorrhaging all over the place -- to cut back on the negotiating space because "we don't use it that much" or "we can make do with less."
All this is true. However, if you consider how important selling is to your company, or negotiating major deals to your law firm, or closing a transaction to your bank or real estate business, you cannot overrate the value of this space. This location is the heart of your business. Maybe the executives can "do with less." Oops. Don't make that suggestion unless you happen to be one of the executives. Perhaps, with a good design, you can create additional space for negotiation by scaling down offices that aren't used much.
In Los Angeles, one of the best-planned rooms for negotiating is at the law firm of Gipson, Hoffman, and Pancione. This space has everything and is only steps away from the kitchen and bathrooms. Figure 3-1 shows a sketch of the space:
One of the best features of the floor plan in Figure 3-1 are the benches that line each wall. Designed for staff members, these benches are deep and comfortable. Many overworked young associates nap on them during long overnight sessions of preparing and proofing documents as a deal crawls toward its final moment. As fancy communication systems become the focus of planning the space, don't forget that human beings still have the same old needs to relieve, replenish, and rejuvenate their bodies.
Checking the Guest List
Who does or does not attend any given negotiation session can be the subject of some intense negotiations itself. For all the moaning about "one more meeting," some people get very bent out of shape if they are not included.
When you arrange a negotiating session, don't invite one more person than is necessary. (Necessary, in a negotiating session, means that the person has something essential to add to the dialogue that cannot be contributed by someone else.) Compensate for not being able to invite someone by sending that individual a memo. Paper is cheap. Extra voices at a negotiation session can be very expensive. Each person in attendance adds exponentially to the problem of control in communications. The chances of words being uttered when silence is needed rise sharply with each person added to a negotiating team.
Sometimes, you want to include a person with special expertise -- an accountant, for example -- in a single negotiating session, even though that person is not a part of the other sessions. Don't hesitate to bring in an expert to make a presentation and answer questions. However, it is most effective to have that person leave after all the information you want to share is on the table.
Research shows that female leaders tend to be more inclusive than males and more agreeable to group decision making and participatory management -- a sort of "the more the merrier" approach. True, you don't want to leave anybody out. Nevertheless, when your purpose is to persuade another human being to do something specific, you don't want anyone there who doesn't contribute to that result.
In a family situation, calling a meeting can be very helpful in making decisions. Especially with kids (who often negotiate by manipulation), having everybody in the same room at the same time is a good idea. This arrangement avoids the message being modified as it's carried from Mom to Dad and back again.
If parents are divorced, having everyone in the same room is even more important. The opportunity for a child to embellish on a parent's word is even greater if the parents are living apart from one another. The parents and kids may want to meet with a professional counselor and discuss these concerns. Otherwise, the side issues between the adults may get in the way of helping the kids.
Setting an Agenda
Agendas are wonderful control devices. An agenda makes it more difficult for the other side to avoid addressing an uncomfortable issue. Creating the agenda is an advantage to you even if you are not in charge of the meeting. If you don't want to, or aren't ready to, discuss a certain topic, leave it off the agenda. Alternatively, you can include a related topic.
The written word has real power in our society. A written agenda in front of all the participants in a meeting has a power and an authority all its own. A plan also brings clarity to a meeting. By providing what amounts to an outline for the meeting, a written agenda inspires people to take notes on what is happening.
Creating the written agenda can be an art form unto itself. Here are some guidelines:
- Scrawl out all the things you want to talk about and everything you want to find out that you don't already know.
- Check off the items you want on the written agenda.
- When you know what you want to talk about, determine the order.
- Make enough copies of the agenda for everyone at the meeting.
Information you want to extract from the other side goes into your private notes, not on the written agenda that goes to everyone at the table.
Starting a session with things that are less emotional and easier to reach a consensus on is usually best.
Make extra copies for people who wanted to attend but could not or were not included. Make extra copies for notetaking and filing.
In family meetings, agendas work the same way, except you need to involve everyone in the agenda-setting process. The first event in a family meeting would be to ask each child what he or she wants to talk about. You may add an item or two and then ask about the order in which to talk about things. This process can be helpful when emotional issues are involved. This approach lets everyone know right away that whatever they want to talk about will be dealt with in order and with due respect -- after all, it's on the list!
The psychology of meeting planning could span volumes. The easiest shortcut is to set your agenda intuitively. Then close your eyes. Picture the table. Envision the faces. See the meeting start. Play it through in your mind. Create a comfortable rhythm to the meeting.
Remember that an agenda suggests the order in which issues will be discussed but does not dictate the order. If controversy arises on a particular point, an agenda makes it easy to move past the point and come back to the dispute later. An agenda also prevents such sensitive points from being permanently swept under the rug. Don't be upset if someone else reorganizes your perfect order, especially if you are not in charge of the meeting.
Don't underestimate the value of an agenda, both for creating control and for ensuring that all the essential issues get addressed.
Leaving Enough Time
How much time to allocate for a negotiation session or for the entire negotiation is always a tricky matter because you are not in control of the other side. If you want to have the negotiation over by a certain time, say so right up front. If a good reason exists for your desire, state that also. Leaving more time than you actually need for a negotiating session is always better than allocating too little time. You can always use the extra time for something else if you have overestimated the time that a negotiating session will take.
Generally, an international deal takes longer to complete than the very same domestic deal. Be prepared to spend twice as long to complete such a deal. Several factors create a need for this extra time.
- Both sides proceed more cautiously as they assess the cultural differences between the parties.
- Language differences take time, even if both parties are speaking the same language but with different accents.
- Fatigue sometimes sets in when a host pushes a special event each evening -- as is common when entertaining visitors from abroad.
Don't forget to take into account the different attitudes toward time around the world. The British have a very formal relationship with time. Everything from plays to trains must commence at the exact appointed time. Mexicans have a more casual relationship with time. Start times are more likely to be approximate.
You are the most important single element in this negotiation. Even if you are the assistant to the assistant to the assistant, your performance at the negotiation is more important to you and your future than any room, agenda, or seating arrangement. Do not shortchange yourself. Take some time out of checking on all the arrangements to check on yourself. This concern for self is an important investment that pays off handsomely.
A is for Alert
To negotiate at your best, you must be well-rested and alert:
- You're more likely to be quick-witted and able to respond to questions or attacks.
- Your concentration and ability to listen are improved.
- You won't be rushing to tie things up so that you can get home or get to bed.
We instituted the Ten o'clock Rule for certain topics, such as money issues or our children's discipline. These subjects tend to start arguments that are not quick to resolve. We now agree not to begin a conversation on anything on this short list of subjects after 10:00 p.m. We find we can always defer these discussions to the clear light of the next day. That way, we protect our time together and get a good night's sleep. Often, the issues don't seem so volatile the next day, anyway.
Your performance at any negotiation is aided by a good night's sleep. Sometimes, getting that sleep is easier said than done. If you find yourself thinking about a negotiation just when you want to go to sleep, try this trick: Pull out a pad and jot down your thoughts. Keep going until you have cleaned out your mind. Often, this exercise enables you to doze off and secure some much-needed sleep.
Dress for success
Two books have had considerable impact on what people wear in order to get power and respect. These books are geared toward the professional, but they have a much wider application if you read between the lines. The first book, Dress for Success by John T. Molloy, chauvinistically addressed only the males among us. The book's popularity led to a sequel, The Woman's Dress for Success Book. Both are valuable aids to rising young stars. The theory of both books is to look at the boss in order to look like the boss.
As a young man, I always took the red-eye to New York, and I set my first negotiation session for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast. I now prefer to have some time to go to my hotel, shower and freshen up, and gather my thoughts for a 9:00 a.m. meeting. I attribute that changing preference to wisdom, not age. If you can't get enough rest on an airplane to function well the next day, travel the day before. Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to long-distance travel.
When going to Europe to negotiate, I always insist on one and preferably two days to get over jet lag. For some reason, going to Asia is less stressful on my body, and I can be ready more quickly. If possible, I never change planes on a business trip.
The startling response to John T. Molloy's book was that, all through the '80s, droves of young female professionals began wearing dark blue suits, white silk blouses, and big crimson bows at the neck. Perhaps they were helping themselves up the ladder of success, but the necessity (or perceived necessity) for ambitious young women to transform their appearance in order to break into the good old boys' club saddens us.
Our recommendation is less restrictive and simpler: Don't dress to distract. You are in a negotiation. You want people to listen and you need their eyes as well as their ears. Women, you pull the eye away from your face if you wear dangling earrings or expose any cleavage. Men, you improve no business environment anywhere with gold chains or a sport shirt open to reveal that remarkable chest. Although this attire may get you attention elsewhere, it doesn't contribute one bit to your negotiating position.
If a particular type of outfit works for you on vacation or at a party, more power to you. But don't confuse those casual social environments (which may very well include a bit of negotiating in the course of an evening) with the negotiating environment of the business world.
As you prepare yourself for your first negotiating session, we can give you no better overall advice than to mirror your environment. Respectfully absorb that which is around you. Sink into the surroundings. Become a part of them. Some negotiators even adapt to the pace of the speech. In New York, where people tend to talk fast, good negotiators speed up their pace a bit; in the South, where people tend to talk slowly, good negotiators slow it down a few notches. (Don't go so far as trying to take on the local accent unless you happen to be Meryl Streep.) Above all, know that good manners are different from place to place. When in Rome, do as the Romans do -- out of respect for the Romans, not to one-up them.
Dressing to build rapport
In business negotiations, you want the other parties to consider you to be a person they can connect with, someone who understands, someone who is simpatico. Part of appearing simpatico is dressing like the client dresses. When I worked in the aerospace industry in the early '80s, I wore conservative navy blue, gray, and black suits just like they wore. Even now, I call my navy blue suits my "financial industry suits" and my red suit with silver and gold thread design on the sleeves my "retail industry suit."
I wore a pantsuit with artsy jewelry to the first negotiation meeting with an artsy, architectural firm in their beachfront, converted-garage office. And, sure enough, the firm's female owners were wearing pants and artsy jewelry. Wearing a business suit would have actually separated me from the client and maybe alienated me. Sometimes, a power suit is jeans and a sweater, if that's what your counterpart is wearing.
Walking through the door
No matter how sleep-deprived, harried, or down-in-the-dumps you may be, always enter the negotiating room perky and assertive. Establish confidence and control from the opening moment. That moment sets a tone for the entire meeting. This fact is true even if you are not officially in charge of the meeting. These guidelines can vault the most junior person at a meeting to MVP status almost immediately.
Never forget the pleasantries. If the last negotiating session ended on a bad note, clear that away first. Otherwise, you run the risk that unrelated matters may ignite the controversy all over again. If you can resolve the situation up front, you can move forward unfettered. Ignoring such a situation just leaves the ill-will hovering over the negotiating table. The bad feelings creep into and influence every conversation. The negativity taints all the proceedings until it has been cleared away.
As your hand is on the door of the negotiating room or after you have dialed the phone number of your counterpart, put on your attitude. Take a beat and lift yourself up to the occasion. Grandmother was right -- "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." Toss your head back -- literally. Smile, inside and out. Focus on your immediate purposes. Have your right hand free to shake hands with whoever is there. If the meeting requires you to wear one of those awful name badges, be sure to write your name in large letters and place the badge high on your right side so that people can easily read it.
Improving your attitude just before the session begins can be one of the most valuable moments you spend in a negotiation.
Here are some guidelines for opening a meeting effectively:
- Make sure that all participants are present and ready to listen.
- State your purpose for having the meeting.
- State the items on the agenda and their time allotments.
- Make a clear request for agreement on the agenda and procedure.
- Acknowledge the participants' attitudes and feelings as they relate to your purpose.
- Summarize your desired outcome and begin according to the agenda.
Preparing for a Session with Someone from Another Culture
In addition to all the standard preparations that precede any negotiation, you must make some special considerations when you are negotiating with someone from another culture. Follow the tips in this section, but don't shortchange any of the other steps of preparation just because you are in an international situation. In fact, a good rule for international settings is: When in doubt, be polite and considerate according to your own culture.
Whom do you invite?
Knowing whom to invite can be a very delicate matter -- get the help of an expert. Most big-city governments and every state have protocol officers that can give you some tips. We also recommend that you read culture-specific books, because practices vary all over the world. In different countries, the role of women ranges from purely secretarial to fully participating members. In some Asian countries, women participate fully during the business portion of the meeting, and then the men go out by themselves. If you aren't sure, you can defer to the lead negotiator from that culture. In fact, deferring to the lead negotiator in such matters can help you build rapport.
Hiring an interpreter
If you think that you and the other party may need an interpreter to communicate with each other, say so before you start the negotiation. Hiring an interpreter midstream could appear as a disparaging commentary on the other party's ability to be clear or speak ill of your ability to understand what the other party is saying. If you have any doubt about understanding the other party (and if you can afford it, and if the size of the deal merits the expense), hire an interpreter early. After all, the other party won't be insulted if you later decide that you don't need the interpreter.
Interpreters work in one of two ways: Simultaneously and consecutively.
- Simultaneous translation: Working with simultaneous translators is expensive, but it's a heady experience. You feel as though you are at the United Nations. It's a little like being inside a badly dubbed movie. You have to watch the speaker for the body language and the facial expressions. For the words -- usually delivered in a sort of monotone -- you listen to the translator who is about two beats behind the speaker. As expensive and impractical as simultaneous translation is, the measure does lend importance to the negotiation.
- Consecutive translation: Much more common is the consecutive translator (also called a delayed or sequential translator). This type of translator listens to a response and then summarizes it for you in your language. Never hire such a person unless you carefully check references, preferably with people you know well. You need loyalty, confidentiality, strong technical skills, and a detachment from what is going on.
You may opt for the extra expense of a simultaneous translator if you need a translator. Having a simultaneous translator impresses the heck out of the opposing party. One way to hire simultaneous translators is to contact the local courthouse where such translators are common. You must work around the courts' schedules.
If you follow these simple guidelines, your first time out with a translator should be a positive experience:
- Never share a translator with the other side.
- Leave plenty of time to brief the translator before the negotiation begins. Treat the translator like a professional.
- Be alert to the translator's need for more breaks than you need.
- Never crack jokes for the interpreter to translate.
- Don't use slang expressions.
- Speak in short sentences and use simple word choices.
- Never raise your voice.
(This chapter has been abridged.)