Negotiation is a complex task, in a previous post, I explained how preparation is key to negotiation success. Wherever possible, before you have the conversation, spend some time preparing

If the negotiation is complex or challenging, it is worth developing a clear structure for the conversation. This clarity can create safety and can make sure you don’t get lost as the discussion develops.

Here is a suggested structure for the conversation:

  1. Introductions, ground rules
    a. Make sure everyone knows who is involved in the discussion
    b. Set some clear expectations around process and behaviour
  2. Opening statements – give everyone a chance to make a brief statement about how they see the issues and what they are hoping to achieve. Encourage people not to get into a debate at this point. Just listen to each other.
  3. Develop an agenda – you may have done this before the meeting, if you haven’t, do it now. What are the key issues we need to decide on today? List them in neutral language. Preferably somewhere visible – like a whiteboard – so you can keep people on track.
  4. Explore the issues and underlying interests and priorities. Work through the agenda (in the order that seems most sensible – managing the order in which topics are discussed is often important (Lax and Sebenius, 2005). Find out what the other person really wants, what are their underlying needs and motivations? What is most and least important to them? Ask lots of questions. Paraphrase back to check and demonstrate understanding. Share your own interests and priorities (but be cautious  – you don’t want them to have more information about you than you have about them). Share information that might help them come to a wise agreement. Don’t come to agreement at this stage on any of the issues. Just work to understand things from their perspective. Look for opportunities to expand the pie.
  5. If at all possible, once you understand their perspective, take a break. Take some time to go away and brainstorm options that might meet the needs of all involved. Go back to your strategy and rework it now you have more information. Think about what you can offer, what you think they will offer. Now you have more information about them you can frame your proposals in terms that connect with what they really care about.
  6. Explore options – Work with the other person to come up with some options. Try to frame this discussion as joint problem solving rather than just being about exchanging offers. How can we achieve the outcomes that are important to everyone? They might have suggestions for how your needs could be met, that you aren’t aware are possible and vice versa. Encourage brainstorming.
  7. Option selection and negotiation – once you have a broad range of options then you can start to craft a deal. It is only at this point that you will do what most people see as negotiation – exchanging offers, working out what you can trade for what etc. Delaying this step means you are much more likely to create value for all parties. Put together packages rather than agreeing issues one by one. If I do x, y, and z would you do a, b and c?
  8. Agreement making – make sure you come up with a clear, written agreement and make sure that everyone agrees with what is written. Take time on this step! Make sure you both have the same understanding of what you are agreeing to – include deadlines, and ways of making people accountable. Think about implementation. Agree on what others need to be told about the deal that has been struck. Who need to be informed about what? Have you got a shared story to take away about what was discussed and agreed? You may also need to agree a date to meet to review the agreement.
  9. Review the Agreement – Hold a follow up meeting with the other people involved. Is the agreement is working? Is it achieving what you all wanted? Are people keeping their commitments? Can we think of ways to improve the agreement that benefits everyone?