Top Negotiators Know When To Leave the Table

From the time they enter a negotiating room the world’s best negotiators know what they expect out of a negotiation and whether, under proposed terms and conditions required of them by their counter-parties, it is at all possible to meet those expectations. Because they have prepared beforehand they know if certain terms are required by their counter-party that they can not accept, the negotiation will be hopelessly deadlocked and they had better close off the bargaining process, pack up and go home. Otherwise, if they stay and continue negotiating under such adverse conditions they surely will negotiate an outcome that is unsatisfactory to themselves.

If a term or condition that is utterly unacceptable to the negotiator is absolutely a bottom line requirement for the counter-party, there is an impasse. The best negotiator will ask the counter-party whether the term is unconditionally indispensable. If it is, the negotiator will pack up and go home. For a top negotiator it frequently is better to have no negotiation that to have a bad one.

Negotiators routinely determine, often in minute detail, before they meet with their counter-parties what the parameters of success will be for their negotiations. Likewise a smart negotiator will set forth any likely terms or conditions their counter-party could insist on which, from the negotiator’s stand point, would take the negotiation to an impasse, a point beyond which they had better not travel.

It is often difficult to know exactly what elements the counter-party will throw into the negotiation. This is especially true if the negotiator has not spent a great deal of time with the counter-party before or does not know the true objectives of the counter-party. If this is the situation it is essential that the negotiator follow certain steps to overcome this problem. The wise negotiator will think about these steps and try to outline a procedure to follow in case any such surprise elements are introduced into the negotiations.

When the parties first meet, the negotiator must probe into the thought processes of the counter-party. The easiest way to do this is to ask questions of the counter-party and listen intently to the answers. The negotiator should observe the facial and other body language responses given. The negotiator should determine what are the true objectives of the counter-party? Often the counter-party will state certain opinions or facts that will turn out to be false or misleading. Sometimes a counter-party will state that certain requirements absolutely must be included in the terms agreed upon but later these terms will vanish and the counter-party will not require them.

The skilled negotiator will seek to determine whether there are bottom-line objectives that are hidden from the agenda stated by the counter-party? Maybe there are psychological pressures that the counter-party himself does not consciously know about. A seasoned negotiator will not take statements at face value all the time and will try to establish a reliable test to determine whether to believe what is said.