Before you can get down to the serious issues of a negotiation, you have to have some sort of relationship with the person you’re talking to. Some guys do this with small talk; others will lay out their understanding of the situation, starting with the least controversial matters and then going logically, or as logically as possible, to the more difficult areas.
For me, the best way to start is to ask the other side what’s important to them, and let them drive the discussion agenda, at least at first. In my experience, you’re not really going to be able to negotiate until you have some sort of relationship in place. Asking the other person what’s going on builds the rapport and also tells you what they value. By the time you’re ready to start talking about important points, you already know what they are.
In a sales situation, rapport is sometimes built during the containment stage prior to negotiation. Let’s say you’re a salesman in a stereo store and a customer comes to you with a general interest in buying a stereo. She’s not very specific, and so you don’t really know what you’re going to negotiate on. Rather than charging off to sell her the latest model from XYZ Corporation, you can start to build trust by asking her what her needs are. How often does she listen to music, is she going to watch DVDs in the same place, and on and on. Yes, you’re striving for containment. But by showing an interest in her needs—not yours—you’re setting the stage for negotiations.
Flow and Time-Out
Once the sides are exchanging positions, negotiations are in full swing. Important points will be raised, sometimes as demands, other times with less threatening words that will add up to the same thing. The flow of the process can vary greatly depending on what you’re negotiating. There are no hard and fast rules for how this ought to proceed.
As we’ll see in Chapter 8, “The Two Ds: Demands and Deadlines,” some negotiators like to get the tough stuff out of the way first, while others will tend to push it off. Personally, I like to work with a few easier issues first, building trust up, then tackle the more difficult issues, with a few easier points held in reserve. That’s because the easier points can be used to keep negotiations moving in the right direction if they bog down on serious disagreements.
In a perfect world, your intelligence gatherer has figured out what the sticking points are going to be before you sit down to negotiate. This of course gives you plenty of time to contemplate a strategy for dealing with these points. Well, guess what? The world ain’t perfect. Sticking points tend to be sticking points precisely because nobody thought they were going to be problems ahead of time. Difficult issues are, in the final analysis, difficult issues.
Hostage negotiations tend to be pretty intense, and sooner or later they come down to one sticking point—the suspect has to surrender. With all the attention on that one issue, it’s important for the negotiator to be able to ease the tension at times. Sometimes when the pace of the negotiation bogs down, the hostage negotiator will just stop talking about that point. He or she will change the subject to something else: kids, baseball, the price of paint in Poughkeepsie. It’s like taking a time-out. Human beings need to relax every so often.
Real time-outs are also part of the negotiator’s tool kit. Simply breaking for a few minutes—or days, in an everyday negotiation—can do wonders for the process as a whole.