In a previous article, I discussed in detail several effective ways of gathering information to prepare for a negotiation. I went over asking questions, listening, and researching. It was shown how employing strategies to get information was a key aspect of learned negotiation skills.
Here, I would like to discuss what information we need to gather, and why it is so important.
When you are preparing to enter into a negotiation, it is important to know who you are negotiating with. Not just a familiarity with the name of a person or business, but a deep knowledge of the other party in terms of:
- their status
- their goals
- their religion
- their negotiation style
Understanding the status of the person or team negotiating the deal tells you what they can and cannot decide. A classic illustration of this is the car lot. When you are engaged with the salesperson, you know he can make certain decisions and make certain recommendations but he cannot make all decisions and recommendations. That is the job of the sales manager. So when negotiating out on the lot, you know that no matter what is spoken or suggested, not much counts until the salesperson “takes it back to the manager”. This naturally affects how you negotiate with him; you might be inclined to offer something but you don’t when you think about the fact that it will have to be negotiated again anyway with the guy behind the desk.
This is an issue of status. The salesperson on a car lot has a limited status.
In any negotiation, it is wise to research and find out how much authority the other party has to make decisions. If you are buying a couch advertised on Craigslist, you will want to know if the person negotiating has to clear the decision with another person in the home before sealing the deal. If you are buying corporate stock, you want to know if the person on the other side of the boardroom table can sign on the dotted line, or if she needs to clear it with a senior executive first.
It can be damaging to your position to lay all your marbles out on the table if you are not dealing with the final decision maker, i.e. the person with the right status. Otherwise, later when you need to use some concessions of your own to get a concession from the opposing party, you could find yourself with no options left. So you need to know the status of the other party before engaging.
Knowing the other party’s goals is likewise helpful to your negotiation. What are they trying to achieve? Is it something other than they are letting on? And if so, how can you use that info to structure your offers and concessions?
If you are selling a business, and you realize the buying party is hoping to get as much training from you as possible, you will be in a position to get more dollars than would normally be expected. You can offer a longer period of involvement to assist the buyer in taking over the business because your goal is the highest dollar possible sale, and not a minimum amount of time in transferring the business. Knowing these facts gives you negotiation muscle.
What is the other party’s religion or spiritual beliefs, and why is this important?
The fact is, it can be very important. A product for one buyer may be a curse, for another it may be a blessing. To meet on a Sunday or a Saturday may be impossible to one seller or buyer, and to others it may not matter at all. Certain days and times of the month are sacred to one, and the same as any to another. If you know the facts about an individual, you can tailor your meeting, your offer, and your manner to accommodate that person. If you don’t, you run the risk of pursuing futile negotiations, or worse, offending them. Taking the time to learn about the other person in a negotiation pays dividends in terms of better communication and better chances of a successful outcome.
The negotiation style of a person or team of negotiators can vary greatly. Much of this can be seen in various cultures coming to the negotiating table. The Japanese, for example, have a view of status in negotiations that most Americans are not privy to. People from India have certain style characteristics peculiar to them that another culture may not quite understand. That’s okay. The goal of any negotiator should be to understand the other party’s inhibitions and expectations so as to be sensitive to them. But that doesn’t mean changing your manners and methods to fit everyone else’s. It simply means to be aware, so if there is a hot button you don’t need to push… don’t push it.
Some cultures view a successful negotiation over anything as a miniature battle; yelling and arguing is part of the process. Other cultures view this behavior as the opposite of a successful negotiation. Neither one is right or wrong; the issue is understanding the differences.