Train Hard, Negotiate Smoothly

Negotiations break down….. © James Madelin 2016

Negotiations break down….. © James Madelin 2016

As your career progresses, you’ll fall into two big traps.

First, with promotion you’ll find yourself a manager of people. You’ll likely be completely unprepared. Your company probably won’t help. The more senior you become, the less you get to execute and the more you depend on your team to…. Their success is yours to share. Their failings will be your fault. More on this soon.

Second is your life becomes filled with negotiations. You’ll be similarly unprepared, with no idea how to approach them in structured way to influence the deal in your favour.

Here are some things to help make you a better negotiator. If you’d rather learn first-hand than read this blogpost, click here for my next “Negotiating Business” seminar.

Train Hard Fight Easy

The military teaches a THFETrain Hard Fight Easy” philosophy. Business isn’t war (no matter what people like to think), but we can learn from the military’s obsession with operational excellence.

THFE applies to negotiating. In the rush to get to the table, to close the deal, to get on with the ‘real’ work, it’s common, and easy, to start negotiations without having spent any time preparing.

If your counterparts have prepared, you’re unlikely to get the deal you hope for. So prepare! Discuss, plan and even roleplay.

Write down zones of possible acceptance, your best alternative to doing the deal, who’s responsible for what, who has which role in the room (which may be different to your day-to-day roles), make sure you’ve researched precedent, then build and master the case for your key points.

Use History

It’s all been done before. Your industry is not unique, nor is the deal you’re working on. History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.

I once negotiated a licencing deal for durable product IP. I ran a company that manufactured and sold accessories. Someone I knew had designed a product I was interested in licensing.

Before negotiations began, I spent considerable time and effort to find the world’s most reputable source of licencing fee data.

When my counterparty demanded 10x the usual fee, I had evidence from the data to justify my offer. I negotiated with confidence thanks to having researched the precedent. The same couldn’t be said for my counterparty, who insisted he be paid a lot more than the industry standard.

He couldn’t produce a convincing reason, or data, to support his demand and we didn’t do a deal, which was in my best interests. Probably not, sadly, in his, as we’d both have been better off if we’d agreed a deal.

Ignore Culture If…..

You can ignore a lot of what is said about the significance of foreign cultures in negotiating, if you’re well travelled.

By ‘well travelled’ I mean you’ve walked streets in far-off places and dived deeply into cultures you didn’t grow up in. You’ve made mistakes in languages you don’t speak, felt awkward, overcome it with smiles and wild hand-waving, then made firm friends in wild places that you’ve forgotten about.

If you’re more of a ‘hang out by the pool’ sort of traveller, all is not lost; find the bright colleague who’s multi-lingual and hands-on and take them with you. Listen and act on their opinions.

In talks with Japanese companies, I had been warned to expect the usual clichés; that building rapport would take years, that saving face is paramount, that every detail counts more so than usual… you get the picture.

Most of that, almost all, is a western-centric, parochial way of thinking. My Japanese counterparts were as keen I as was to reach an agreement, otherwise we wouldn’t have been wasting each others’ time. They knew about European cultural styles and were just as eager, out of politeness, to suit my style, as I was to suit theirs.

We negotiated in a mutually respectable way and reached an agreement. Which is what you can expect anywhere in the world. There’s very little you can do in one culture that would derail a negotiation, that won’t derail a negotiation anywhere else.

There is a global culture of business. Conduct yourself in a respectable, polite manner, use the negotiating tools you’ve learned*, bear in mind you’re not on home ground, and you’ll be fine.

Tick Tock

Constraints are incredibly powerful. Do you have a deadline by which time you have to have completed negotiations? Never let your counterparty know it.

Is there an important event that can only occur if you complete negotiations? Never let your counterparty know it.

Use every opportunity to find your counterparty’s constraints.

Examples of this are everywhere, and easy to miss.

The UK government’s issue of the Article 50 notice is the most recent, most public and most cripplingly stupid negotiation mistake I remember seeing; creating a two year deadline for a process that they hadn’t begun preparing for.

An apocryphal tale of a negotiation counterparty offering to help your logistics by arranging limos to and from the airport for you, so they’d know when you had to fly back to base with results.

Negotiate Smoothly

If you’d like to learn how to use these tips and tricks to your benefit, and overcome anyone trying to use them against you, come along to a Negotiation Training Seminar that I host in partnership with ex-WTO negotiator Dmitry Grozoubinski regularly. The next public one is “Negotiating Business,” on Tuesday October 29th in central London, England. Details here.

James Madelin

Consumer durables, apps, insurance and SaaS business consultant.