Prepare for Process

Many negotiators make the mistake of focusing too-much- too-soon on the finish line, resulting in deadlocks and , value being left on the table. In this post, we will help counter this phenomenon, generating 3 Tips for Better Process.

My colleague, and friend, Professor Alain Lempereur, published a book some years ago titled The First Move – A Negotiators Companion. For me, this is one of the most important negotiation books on the market. Having read nearly all of the top sellers on the topic, I can tell you it is of vastly different character. Professor Lempereur centres on 3 Pillars for responsible negotiation: People, Problems, and Process. The book, in my opinion, is more accessible, somehow, meaning it allows for quicker knowledge transfer. If you are a self-starter, you can start improving your negotiation approach the minute you start reading the book.

« It is quite ordinary that negotiations fail, because we discuss the issues without any method. »

- Gabriel BONNOT de MABLY, 1757

Improve Process, Improve Results

Put the following 5 Process Tips into play, and you will become a more organized and professional negotiator. The best way to do this, seriously, is to grab your notepad, or open up the Take Notes Tool at the bottom right of your screen (for logged in users only).  

Process Tip #1: Prepare for the process itself.

Negotiations can sometimes consist of any number of meetings before a settlement is reached. Each meeting can also feature any number of process elements. As negotiators, it is important to both ‘zoom-in’ to each specific meeting process, and ‘zoom-out’ to the larger multi-meeting process.

How do we prepare for process?

Every negotiation meeting (formal or informal) features a beginning, middle & end. Within this set of fundamentals there can exist any number of structures, dependent on the purpose of a specific meeting. Sometimes a meeting is called to solve a specific problem or to hash out an agreeable pricing structure. Maybe to draw up parameters of a partnership, or establish a set of expectations between two departments within the same division of a company because of shared issues falling through the cracks.

Each meeting type may have a different structure to serve its purpose. A good way to prepare is to envision a successful conclusion, and then backward-map to determine a suitable structure or sequence of specific interactions that will, when successful, get parties closer to or within reach of the overall objective. If it is more lengthy process, then map the different meeting types, each with its own structure to meet the purposes of specific meetings.

Here’s an example:

Maybe Meeting #1 is solely designated for relationship building with counterparts. One of many meeting structures could be:

  1. A round of formal (or informal) introductions
  2. A brainstorm list and agreement for behavioural ground rules, principles or success factors
  3. Agreeing on the shared list of issues that the parties need to solve together
  4. Establishing ranking order of the issues
  5. Agreeing methods for tackling the issues in Meeting #2
  6. Securing next steps – who does what? – leading up to the second meeting.

Mapping the overall process for your negotiations helps you improve your preparation for the substantive parts of the negotiation as well. You’ll be able to ‘envision’ you and your counterpart(s) in sync in the process or where you may experience trouble spots. Be sure to take into account that a negotiation process is typically a product of negotiation with the other party. In other words the process will need to be negotiated vs. imposed. This, however, does not prevent you from being well-prepared in advance, and to propose your process ideas in order to influence what that negotiation process looks like. You might be surprised how happy the other side is for your organizational skills! 

Here is one certainty we have discovered over & over again with our participants: the failure of a negotiation can often be traved back to a failure within the process. Rushing into your meetings without forethought and preparation of process can lead to poor outcomes.

Imagine that the world rushes into re-opening during this COVID-19 period. The repercussions are vast, and will hurt us if we are not smart about it. Same principle with negotiation process—think, reflect, plan carefully before the meeting, yet be agile and flexible to adapt during the meeting. 

Process Tip #2: Prepare your frames

If we know that each meeting may feature different agendas and structures for working through the issues, it is important to prepare your frames.

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown us that we are not as rational as we think with The Prospect Theory , and that ‘framing’ has a powerful affect on behaviours in a negotiation. Whether we frame things positively (glass half full) or negatively (glass half empty) makes a big difference. Our choice of words has a more powerful affect than we might think. Keep this in mind when describing problems, framing a concerns, or laying out a list of discussion points.

What do we mean by ‘Prepare your Frames’?

When we say prepare your frames, we mean a structured preparation of the following:

  • Prepare a frame to set a good tone for the meeting (What is the meeting about for you? What is the first thing you will say & how?).
  • Information gathering is questioning & listening. Frame your questions to yield best responses. Establish a list of key questions you want to ask, and determine how you will ask them.
  • Go through the list of issues to be negotiated & plan for how you will describe your POV (point of view) for each of them.
  • List your possible solutions at the table & work out how you will present them. What will you say, and how will you say it?

The overall frame for meeting should be explicitly agreed upon, and not left to chance. Overly large percentages of negotiation outcomes can be predicted within the first five minutes because of what negotiators do or don’t do right up front. Be sure to establish a shared overall meeting frame, a shared view on the problem(s) you are trying to solve, and a shared view on the approach to solving that problem. 

Process Tip #3: Be adaptable & prepared to re-frame.

In karate there is a term called Zanshin, which, when translated, equates to ‘a state of readiness’. In negotiation, Zanshin is important. We need to be at the ready to recognise framing tactics being used by the other side. Falling victim to the framing effect may harm our chances for progress, getting our needs met, or reaching a settlement. It can also destroy the meeting envrionmemt and trust. To manage this we need to prepare, in advance, for how to re-frame when the other side ‘frames’ us in a way that  can sometimes throw us off balance.

What are some ways to prepare for re-framing?

Good strategy is about anticipation, and thinking a few steps ahead; actions-reactions. Preparing for negotiation is about preparing for not only what you plan to do, but also what the other side plans to do. 

To prepare for re-framing, consider the following:

  1. What might the other side say at the beginning of the meeting about the overall purpose, that may be counter to what you believe the purpose is?
  2. When/if they do apply a frame that is counter to what your purpose is, how will you respond in a way that does not cause unneeded escalation, or positional communication?
  3. How will you ensure that you and your counterpart are in-sync and in explicitly agreement about the meeting purpose before moving on to establish an agenda?   

Prepare in writing:

To answer these questions for yourself, in writing, is a good 1st step method. Why? Because writing it down crystalizes our thoughts. If we only rely on memory, we may be blind by emotions caused by influencing tactics, and fail to recall what we need to recall. It is better to invest the time to anticipate the counterpart’s thoughts and statements, and try to write them out as they might actually say them. Adjust your responses from there.

Next step is Practice

What we hear all too often, when we ask, ‘How did you prepare?’, is the following: ” I gave some thought to how they would view things and what they might want…”. When we follow up that response with, “Did you simulate or rehearse verbally what they might say & how you would respond?”, the most typical answer is ‘No’.

We cannot stress enough the importance of ‘practice’ before the game negotiation – especially for the the work done in the first 3-5 minutes of a meeting.  To apply a sports metaphor here, we play as we practice, meaning preparation for a match should be set in realistic game  terms. For you as a negotiator, this means either verbally rehearsing yourself and playing with variations of frames & reframes, or running scenario role plays a trusted colleague or your principal/manager.

Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Muscle memory. To re-frame effectively you’ll need to create the reflex of responding in an effective, productive, and professional way rather than simply relying on instincts which can often become reactive, causing escalation.  

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3 Tips for Effective Process

Dear Negotiators

Many negotiators make the mistake of focusing too-much-too-soon in an attempt to get what’s theirs at the finish line. The result? Sometimes a speedy settlement, but more often resulting in deadlocks and, win-lose, lose-lose focus. Value gets left on the table. 

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We are writing this letter to share the following: 

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