Have you ever tried to keep a two-year-old happy? Most days you can do it with a few toys and maybe a silly song or two, but then there are days when nothing works. In desperation, you ask the child, “What do you want?”
And the kid says, “I dunno.”
I dunno is the hardest issue to deal with in negotiations. If you’re talking with someone who doesn’t know what they want, you have no basis for negotiating. You don’t have closure, you don’t have anything meaningful to talk about. All you have is a whining two-year-old.
In everyday negotiating, people who don’t know what they want are simply not ready to negotiate. You shouldn’t be in that position yourself—because you’ve done your homework, right? But even the best prepared negotiating team is going to occasionally find itself in a situation where it’s dealing with issues it hadn’t considered before the session began.
Once again, the team approach becomes important here—the negotiator gives way to the intelligence officer, who gathers more information and presents it to the commander. On a one-man team, you drop into explore mode and gather intelligence, asking questions—just remember that’s what you’re doing, getting intelligence, not negotiating.
What happens if the other side really doesn’t know what it wants?
It’ll be tempting, very tempting, to simply dictate terms . . . or to try to throw them in as oh-by-the-ways at the closing.
Don’t do it.
The basis of good negotiating is mutual trust and understanding. That’s not just feel-good baloney socks either. Going into a negotiation, negotiators should have a clearly defined goal. Achieving that goal is what it’s all about. Skipping over the fine print makes you vulnerable to it at the closing.
Now I’m not saying you have to bend over backward to help the other side, or that you should emphasize the negatives of a deal for the other side. If I’m talking with a hostage taker who’s already committed a murder, I’m not likely to say something like, “Well you know, after you surrender we will be hoping to fry you in the electric chair.”
But you do owe it to yourself to present a fair and equitable deal.
Yup. Because it’s very possible that the people you’re dealing with will wake up tomorrow, and if not then, the day after that, and if they feel they’ve been ripped off, they may back out of the deal. If it’s too late for that, they may still find some way to get back at you—if only by refusing to do business with you again.
Call it Dominick’s rule of complete negotiations: Major issues in a contract should always be aired at the negotiation stage. If the other side doesn’t bring them up, make sure you do.
A Psycho, or a Maniac?
A psycho is someone who is certifiably insane. They’re mentally unbalanced and belong under a doctor’s care.
But a maniac is a little different. A maniac is someone who may act a little crazy, a little out of control, but falls within the general parameters of mental stability. She may do crazy things, but she’ll ace the Rorschach test every time.
Maniacs negotiate all the time. They generally announce their style by making outrageous demands and doing things to break up the negotiating flow. Demands, even outrageous ones, are not a problem; we’ll get into dealing with them in more detail in the next chapter.
If you’re dealing with people who act like maniacs, the most important thing to remember is that it’s part of a strategy. It’s not a particularly effective one, since at best it’s wasting time and at worst it’s pissing you off. But it’s a strategy, and not a comment on your goal.
Probably not theirs either. Ask them what they really want, what’s important to them in the negotiations. Counter with your actual points. If they’re still acting out—to use shrink lingo—a short time-out may be in order.
What you don’t want to do is play maniac back. It may be fun, it may even feel good, but it usually doesn’t help you get back to your goal.