Six questions you should always ask when negotiating

December 17th, 2015

Negotiation is viewed by many as a ‘Dark Art’. It is something that many approach with a sense of trepidation. The cynic in me often feels such perceptions are perpetuated to justify the five figure fees of many negotiation courses. This is because in my experience, comfort and success in negotiation can be greatly improved by answering some very simple and practical questions:

1. Is this the right time to negotiate?

Have you ever had the experience of someone phoning you, as you’re rushing to get ready for an important event, or as you’re trying to get food on the table for a hungry family? How receptive are you to the call? For most people, it’s ‘not very receptive at all’. In such circumstances, it is often best not to get involved in a conversation and instead reschedule for another time.

A negotiation is simply a specific type of conversation and so follows the same general rules as all conversations. If it starts well, it often finishes well. If it starts badly, it can be very difficult to ‘get it back’.

Consequently, it is worth asking yourself whether now is the right time for negotiating and explicitly asking the other party whether it’s the right time for them too.

2. Is this the right location to negotiate?

Many a fundraiser will tell you that asking for a donation is often easier when the would be recipients are physically in the background and visibly benefiting from the charity’s work. Far more practically, choosing a location where distractions are kept to a minimum can greatly increase negotiation success.

3. Is the person you’re negotiating with in a position to decide?

I have seen some outstanding examples of negotiation completely wasted because upon reaching a ‘deal’ one of the parties says; “I’m just going to have to OK this with my boss.”

When this happens the negotiation often has to start all over again with the boss and much of the time already committed is wasted. Consequently, it’s important to check that your counterpart can make a decision. If they can’t, it is perfectly reasonable to insist that the negotiation does not start until the decision maker is present.

4. Are you the right person to be negotiating for your organisation?

In an ideal world, issues such as your age, gender, nationality and status would have no bearing on your perceived capability to negotiate. However, we do not live in an ideal world, and the preconceived ideas held by your counterpart may mean that someone else in your organisation will get a better deal than you.

5. Is it worth negotiating?

It may be that your counterpart’s preconceptions/discriminatory views are sufficiently contra to your and/or your organisation’s values that continuing negotiation becomes untenable. Even, when such preconceptions do not exist, it is still worth asking yourself whether negotiating is worth the effort. Essentially, you should consider negotiating when doing so can potentially provide you and your negotiating partner with something better than a non-negotiated outcome. However sometimes the alternatives to negotiating are preferential. In such circumstances saying ‘No’ to negotiation is the right answer.

6. Have you devoted sufficient time to your BATNA?

The styles, processes and skills for negotiation are best developed through training and practice rather than through a blog post. However, a stand-out requirement for any negotiation is a good BATNA: Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.

Taking the time and effort to develop a strong BATNA is crucial to successful negotiation. Psychologically it can have a profound effect, as a strong BATNA allows you to approach a negotiation knowing that, even if it fails, the alternative is still OK.

To quote the late publisher Felix Denis (a renowned negotiator);

“You have to persuade yourself that you absolutely don’t care what happens. I absolutely promise you, in every serious negotiation, the man or woman who doesn’t care is going to win.”

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